Steel Searching: Pittsburgh Steelers Fail To Clinch Division

Charlie Cox@@charles_a_coxCorrespondent IDecember 20, 2010

PITTSBURGH - DECEMBER 19:  Emmanuel Sanders #88 of the Pittsburgh Steelers misses a catch in the endzone in front of Dwight Lowery #26 of the New York Jets in the fourth quarter during the game on December 19, 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Pittsburgh, PA - Throw out the story lines - so what if this is the first time the Jets have won in Pennsylvania, so what if the Jets snapped their two game losing streak, so what if Mark Sanchez finally scored the Jets' first offensive touchdown in a millennium. The only thing that mattered about this game was truly nothing.

The Steelers are still atop the AFC North and look to remain there, as they have the head-to-head with Baltimore and look to play the Carolina Panthers and Cleveland Browns in the next two weeks. The New York Jets, with ten wins now, have basically cinched the wild card position, as there's no possible way for them to surpass the juggernaut New England Patriots for the division. 

The only meaning of this game was a playoff preview, one that was overall very good.

Defense dominated the game, along with offensive miscues. Aside from Brad Smith's kickoff return, scoring for the Jets was very minimal. Aided by a 15 yard personal foul penalty committed by free safety Ryan Clark, the Jets were able to move into Steelers' territory and score a touchdown on a 4th-and-1 playaction bootleg by quarterback Mark Sanchez. 

Sanchez did find a way to exploit the Steelers' defense at times by taking tips from his division rival Tom Brady. The Jets' offense completely resembled that of the New England Patriots, which is highly effective against the Steelers' defense. Short slants mixed with timely runs, and you can effectively move the ball on the Steelers. 

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However, the Steelers' defense didn't look like they were too engaged in the game. There wasn't a sense of urgency seen, or maybe it's just the lack of talent by Bryant McFadden, who was once again picked on. The Steelers seemed to rarely blitz in the game, allowing Sanchez to stand in the pocket and complete throws. When they did rush more than five defenders, they hurried Sanchez into making a decision, which disrupted his timing and effectively worked to stop offensive progression.

What was too odd is that the Steelers' offense looked too good to have not won the game. Once again, there are too many recurring themes that have halted the Steelers' success.

Like a broken record, the Bruce Arians theme has been spinning round and round never wavering from the same dull, annoying  action. Why is that Rashard Mendenhall can eclipse 100 yards on the ground while averaging near six yards per carry and only receive 17 carries? It seemed that after every big gain from Mendenhall, Arians would revert back to the passing game. And then on alternate downs, he would run Mewelde Moore.

The Steelers have a potential two-headed monster in Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, however Redman only sees a limited 2-5 carries a game. Rashard has shown he has trouble up the middle, but excels outside, while Redman's forte is clearly between the tackles.

But, still, what was more ostentatiously surprising were the non-calls on the Jets' secondary. The referees did a much better job officiating the line of scrimmage than they have this season, yet somehow, they managed to blow some of the easiest calls in the game.

Antonio Cromartie was mugging ever receiver he covered throughout the entire game and was never called on it, despite how much Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Mike Tomlin complained. The most detrimental non-call was Ben Roethlisberger's pass to the corner of the endzone with 20 seconds left in the game. Cromartie was holding the jersey of Emmanuel Sanders for at least 10 straight yards, prohibiting him from catching the game winning touchdown. 

Yet again, at the end of the game on the last play, it was Cromartie who had Emmanuel Sanders wrapped in a bear hug while Roethlisberger was trying to find an open receiver.

Had either of those calls been enforced, the Steelers would have had the ball first-and-goal from the one yard line. 

Now, it's never the referees' fault for losing the game - if Jonathan Scott actually blocks Jason Taylor on the goal line, Mewelde Moore isn't taken down for a safety. If Troy Polamalu or Heath Miller were healthy, the game would have gone a lot differently. But the lack of attention by the referees sure didn't help and does put a lot of the blame on the officiating. I'm sure the chant was more R-E-F-S, REFS REFS REFS! than the usual norm.

As aforementioned, the Steelers should easily win their next two weeks, as they play Carolina and Cleveland, and will look to face at least one of the two teams that have bested them at home - the New York Jets and New England Patriots - and will definitely write a different story.