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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New York Jets: A Complete History of the Rivalry

In the NFL’s 100th season, a look at the Steelers and Jets, now and through history.

2011 AFC Championship: New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

With all the NFL 100th Season lists, I’ve been thinking about the histories of various Steeler rivalries. So every week for the rest of the year, I’ll post a retrospective preview, considering the two teams and setting up for the upcoming game.

This week: New York Jets

2019 Comparison

New York Jets v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

Current Records:

Steelers 8-6 (2nd AFC North)
NY Jets 5-9 (3rd AFC East)

2019 Off/Def Comparisons:

....................................... Overall........... Pass ........... Rush........... Score

Steelers Offense........286 (30th).......194 (31st)........92 (26th).......19.2 (25th)
NY Jets Defense........329 (9th)..........240 (19th).......89 (2nd)........24.5 (20th)

NY Jets Offense.........274 (31st).........197 (31st)......78 (31st).......17.6 (28th)
Steelers Defense........307 (4th)...........204 (5th)…..103 (11th)......18.5 (6th)

Player in Common (current):

Le’Veon Bell (Steelers 2013-17 2nd Rd / signed with Jets 2019 as free agent)

We all know the Le’Veon Bell story — how Bell believed he could reset the running back market by sitting out an entire season in his prime to avoid the franchise tag. When he went on the open market, he got paid, but nowhere near his expected price. He also found out really quickly that it helps to be on a team with a great offensive line, a Hall of Fame quarterback, a first rate coach, and a winning culture. Over five years with the Steelers, Bell averaged 128.9 yards of scrimmage per game, including leading the AFC in rushing in 2014, and leading the conference in scrimmage yards in 2014, 2016, and 2017. In the Big Apple, he is averaging 83.1. On pace to build an historic career in Pittsburgh, Bell is now just a decent back on a bad team. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl this season, and rumors have swirled since he was signed that coach Adam Gase didn’t want him on the Jets in the first place.

Player in Common (recent past)

Santonio Holmes (Steelers 2006-09, Jets 2010-13)
Holmes was a gifted athlete and first-round draft pick for the Steelers. He went on to become the sixth wide receiver to win Super Bowl MVP. Just over a year later, his lengthy arrest record finally caught up with him during the Steelers tumultuous 2010 offseason, and he was traded to the Jets for a 5th round draft pick. Rex Ryan, who’d been the Ravens defensive coordinator in the mid-2000s, supposedly told his GM to get Homes because, “That (expletive) cost me more than one Super Bowl ring!”

Jerricho Cotchery (Jets 2004-10, Steelers 2011-13)
Cotchery was brought to Pittsburgh to be the possession receiver as Hines Ward’s career wound down. He’d been a thousand yard receiver in New York, but never duplicated that success in Pittsburgh, which had a young core of star wideouts already (Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown). He did have a remarkable 2013 season, catching 10 touchdowns on only 46 receptions, as the Steelers rallied from 0-4 and nearly made the playoffs.

Alan Faneca (Steelers 1998-2007, Jets 2008-09)
Faneca was a first round draft choice, and possibly the best pure guard in Pittsburgh history. He was a six-time first team All Pro at left guard, and also made the Pro Bowl as a left tackle in 2003. He made the key block on Willie Parker’s Super Bowl record 75 yard touchdown run in SBXL. By 2008, he’d priced himself out of town and signed with the Jets a a free agent.

James Farrior (Jets 1997-2001, Steelers 2002-11)
Drafted in the first round as an outside linebacker, Farrior never quite lived up to his billing with the Jets. Pittsburgh signed him as a free agent in 2002, moved him inside, and got a two time Pro Bowler and one time first team All Pro. In 2004, Farrior was runner up for Defensive Player of the Year. He led the Steelers in tackles six times, and was a cornerstone of their outstanding defense for over a decade.


Steelers v Jets Photo by Focus on Sport via Getty Images

All-Time Records:

Pittsburgh 664-583-22 (.532)
N.Y. Jets 413-504-8 (.448)

Steelers have the 4th most wins in NFL history; 11th best all time winning percentage. Jets have the 24th most wins, and are 26th in winning percentage.

Since Merger:

Pittsburgh 502-315-3 (.614)
N.Y. Jets 342-438-2 (.438)

Steelers are winningest teams in the NFL since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. New York sits at #24 in wins, #27 in percentage.

This Century:

Pittsburgh 212-115-2 (.648)
N.Y. Jets 147-169-0 (.465)

The Steelers are the #2 team in the NFL this millennium. The Jets are #20.

Most Recent Super Bowl Win:

Pittsburgh : 2008 (Super Bowl XLIII)
N.Y. Jets : 1968 (Super Bowl III)

Worst Coach:

Pittsburgh : Mike Nixon 2-12, .143 (1965)
N.Y. Jets : Rich Kotite 4-28, .125 (1995-96)

Best Number 12:

Pittsburgh : Terry Bradshaw (1970-83) – Hall of Fame, four time Super Bowl champ, two time Super Bowl MVP, one time NFL MVP

N.Y. Jets : Joe Namath (1966-78) – Hall of Fame, one time Super Bowl champ, one time Super Bowl MVP, first passer to break 4000 yard barrier

Best MAC Quarterback with a Ridiculously Long Last Name:

Pittsburgh : Ben Roethlisberger, Miami (Ohio) (2004- )
N.Y. Jets : Chad Pennington, Marshall (2000-07)

Best “Snell”:

Pittsburgh : Benny Snell Jr. (2019- )
N.Y. Jets : Matt Snell (1964-72)

Matt Snell is Benny’s first cousin twice removed (i.e. his cousin is Benny’s grandfather). The elder Snell also probably should have been the MVP of Super Bowl III.

All Time Great that Rarely Gets Talked About (but should):

Pittsburgh : Jack Ham, OLB (1971-82) – 8 Pro Bowls, 6 All Pro (1st team; two more 2nd team), NFL Defensive Player of the Year 1975, 4 Super Bowl Titles, NFL 75th Anniversary team, NFL 100th Anniversary team, Hall of Fame (1989)

N.Y. Jets : Don Maynard, WR (1960-72) – 4 AFL All-Star, 2 All-AFL (1st team; two more 2nd team), 1 AFL title, 1 Super Bowl Title, All Time AFL team, Hall of Fame (1978)

2019 Quarterbacks’ Starting Records (career)

Pittsburgh : Devlin Hodges — 3-1 (.750)
NY Jets : Sam Darnold — 9-15 (.375)

Big 2019 Inside Linebacker Acquisition:

Pittsburgh : Devin Bush (drafted 1st, 10th overall, 2019, Pittsburgh Steelers; Steelers acquired 10th overall selection by swapping first round picks with the Denver Broncos, and sending Denver their 2nd round choice, and next year’s 3rd round pick). Bush has 92 tackles this season, along with 8 tackles for losses, two interceptions, four fumble recoveries, and a touchdown.

N.Y. Jets : C.J. Mosely (drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2014, Baltimore Ravens; signed as free agent with Jets 2019). Mosely was a four time Pro Bowler in Baltimore, after averaging 119 tackles, 8.6 tackles for losses, two interceptions and a fumble recovery over five years. He’s been on injured reserve all season after appearing in two games for the Jets.


AFC CHAMPIONSHIP NEW YORK JETS VS. PITTSBURGH STEELERS Doug Kapustin/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

All-Time Series:

Pittsburgh 20 – 5

Playoff Series:

Pittsburgh 2 – 0

Current Streak:

Pittsburgh 6w

Longest Streak:

Pittsburgh – 9 games (1970-1986)
N.Y. Jets – 2 games (2007-10)

First game:

November 8, 1970
Pittsburgh – 21
N.Y. Jets – 17

Neither Joe Namath nor Terry Bradshaw played in this one — Namath because of injury, Bradshaw because the rookie had been playing erratically and Chuck Noll was still swapping his quarterbacks week to week. Terry Hanratty got the start in this one, but Frenchy Fuqua was the star, scoring two touchdowns. No Steeler receiver caught more than one pass on the day, as Hanratty only completed 7 of 21 (33.3%) on the day. The Jets QBs were somehow worse, hitting 13-44 (29.5%). This was really a story of teams going in two different directions. The Jets were two years removed from their historic win in Super Bowl III; the Steelers were two years from the Immaculate Reception and the launch of their dynasty. On this day, though, you’ve got a mediocre game by two mediocre teams (combined 1970 record: 9-19).

Two interesting coaching notes: Chuck Noll had been the defensive coordinator who lost to Namath, Matt Snell and the Jets in that Super Bowl matchup. This was his first game against the Jets since that day. Meanwhile, the Jets defensive line coach was a young coaching prodigy named Buddy Ryan. You’d never guess that, since the Steelers recorded two interceptions and five sacks, while the Jets recorded goose-eggs in both categories. But I guess it takes talent too.

Most Recent game:

October 9, 2016
Pittsburgh – 31
N.Y. Jets – 13

Yet another matchup between Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Fitzpatrick. (My god, how many times is that guy going to show up in these articles?) This game is mostly memorable as Sammie Coates’ best game in the NFL. Expected to replace Martavis Bryant during his year-long suspension, the second-year deep-threat Coates seemed to hit his stride in this week 5 matchup, finishing with six catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns, including an awesome 72 yard bomb. Unfortunately, a broken finger and a case of the drops sandbagged his career. Coates would be traded to the Cleveland Browns the following offseason, after the Steelers drafted JuJu Smith-Schuster. He is currently unemployed. These would be the only two touchdowns of his entire career.

Biggest Game in the Series:

January 23, 2011 (AFC Championship Game)
Pittsburgh – 24
N.Y. Jets – 19

The Jets upset the New England Patriots in the Divisional Round while the Steelers were breaking the Baltimore Ravens’ hearts — one of the best overall weekends of football in my lifetime. That sent a talented and scrappy Jets team to Pittsburgh. New York had actually beaten the Steelers late in the regular season, and Rex Ryan (former Ravens defensive coordinator) was not afraid of the Steelers (nor was his star receiver, Santonio Holmes). In this game, the Steelers jumped out to a big lead, then held on through a frantic Jets comeback. Ben Roethlisberger, for the second consecutive week, went to his sixth round rookie wideout, Antonio Brown, to seal the deal – hitting Brown for a key third down conversion that allowed Big Ben to kneel out the game.

Rex Ryan’s headset is probably still planted in the turf at Heinz Field following that completion.

Memorable Games:

January 15, 2005
Pittsburgh – 20*OT
N.Y. Jets – 17

The Steelers and Jets square off for the second time in three games (Pittsburgh won the first 17-6). In this contest, rookie Ben Roethlisberger runs his career record to 14-0, but looks like a rookie doing it throwing two interceptions, including a third-quarter pick-6 from deep in Jets territory. Having finished 15-1, the Steelers rested their starters in week 17, and were awarded a playoff bye, meaning the first-team hadn’t taken the field in three weeks. As often happens, they looked out of sorts all game long (with three turnovers and a punt return TD allowed).

In the end, the team avoided the upset only because Jets kicker Doug Brien missed two fourth quarter field goals (on consecutive drives). Though in fairness, the Jets were only on the field this day because Chargers rookie kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 40 yard overtime field goal the week before. In any case, Big Ben won the MAC showdown against Chad Pennington, giving the Steelers the chance to host New England in the AFC Title Game. That game would be a rematch from earlier in the season as well—which means the Patriots video team had a chance to watch the Steelers’ signals on the sideline, or perhaps even record them...

(Just kidding. That would be illegal.)

December 14, 2003
Pittsburgh – 0
N.Y. Jets – 6

Goodness, this looks like a boring game. Jeff Reed missed two field goals (including a 20 yarder) to allow this horrible shutout. Meanwhile Tommy Maddox passed 38 times but only amassed 137 yards (that’s 3.7 yards per attempt, if you’re doing the math). Rookie Troy Polamalu didn’t make the stat sheet, and the game’s leading tackler was Tyrone Carter (when he was still a Jet). Yikes. I’ve included this one for one reason: it was the loss that dropped the team’s record to 5-9, meaning the last time the Steelers finished below .500, the Jets were the team that put them there. They split their final two games that season to finish 6-10 and secure the 11th pick in the 2004 draft, and change the direction of the franchise irrevocably.

September 13, 1992
Pittsburgh – 27
N.Y. Jets – 10

Bill Cowher’s second game as Steelers head coach is a sloppy one, as the Steelers and Jets combine for 12 turnovers — 7 for the Jets, 5 for the Steelers. Each team records a pick-6 each team loses three fumbles. Steelers quarterback Neil O’Donnell only completes 11 passes on the day, but still outplays both Jets QBs (Ken O’Brien and Browning Nagle), who combine to go 10-33. This game would be an unmitigated disaster, except that it’s the contest that makes Barry Foster a star. Foster runs for 190 yards on 33 attempts, scoring the only offensive touchdowns on the day (on 23 yard and 54 yard sprints). Cowher and OC Ron Erhardt keep feeding him the ball despite Foster losing three fumbles. This game launches Foster on his still-record 1690 yard season.

December 10, 1989
Pittsburgh – 13
N.Y. Jets – 0

I’ve included the 1989 team several times in this series because they’re probably my all-time favorite Steelers squad. The team had been shut out three times that year (including 51-0 at home in the season opener), but Chuck Noll pulled the team together and wound up winning a playoff game. This late-season tilt against the Jets saw the Steelers’ defense rounding into shape, and recording a shut-out of its own. Probably the scrappiest team in Steelers history, I’m kind of amazed there hasn’t been a movie about these guys yet.