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Steelers fans owe Landry Jones an apology -- and a huge thank you

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return from what once looked like a season-ending injury. Before we get there, though, let's take a moment to admit to ourselves, and to the world, that we severely underestimated Landry Jones.

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Landry Jones wasn't awful.

Let's not overlook that fact. Let's not overlook it, because Steeler Nation had spent more than two seasons lampooning the former fourth-round pick at every possible opportunity. I'd say a collective "shame on us" is in order.

The reality is that the defense did him no favors in his first career start, against the Chiefs in week seven. He's not a starter, and likely will never be one. I doubt the Steelers ever drafted him with that as an eventual part of the plan. What he is, however, is a player who has spent a lot of time learning Todd Haley's offense and running the scout team behind closed doors. What a coach asks of that guy, when he gets a spot start, is to not lose the game. Sure, he had a few bad throws, but he was one of the reasons the game was still winnable in the waning minutes.

We can be forgiven for the venom we spewed his way, but only slightly. We had a one-sided view of Jones, because we never really saw him in extended action with the starters. In fact, we generally saw him performing in the worst possible conditions. We only ever got a glimpse of him, prior to Mike Vick tearing a hamstring, when he was throwing to mostly marginal receivers who will probably never be more than emergency fill-ins in the NFL. We saw him behind linemen who couldn't block time on a calendar, let alone a defense. We saw him in games in which the final score simply didn't matter.

All along, I heard that he was playing against bad defensive players, and still looked awful. Keep in mind, good protection from an offensive line requires all five to do their jobs on each play. All it takes is one defender to win his battle in order to create pressure or a sack. The chaotic nature of preseason generally favors the defense for that reason. Only the few drives during which the starters play will an offense truly look good. Jones played, in total, maybe a quarter or two with the starters. Even then, a lot of pieces were missing in each game.

For two years, people prayed he would never get a helmet, let alone take a snap. But he understood his role, honed his craft, and never complained about spending Sundays in sweatpants. When his number was finally called, he outperformed the former superstar the team signed in a panic rather than promoting Jones. And again, he never complained.

He's exactly the kind of guy I want backing up my franchise quarterback.

So, when we hopefully watch Ben Roethlisberger slinging passes all over the Cincinnati secondary on Sunday, let's remember how well Jones acquitted himself in a little less than six quarters. He won one game and kept the team in another, despite what may have been the Steelers' worst defensive effort so far.  He didn't even get much help from his offensive stars: DeAngelo Williams dropped a critical fourth-down pass that hit him in the hands, and All-Universe receiver Antonio Brown had a very catchable ball bounce off his fingertips and into the hands of Chiefs cornerback Eric Berry. And, in the end, Jones never cast a word of blame.

I hope the Landry Jones chapter in Steelers history isn't over. I hope, in future paragraphs, he becomes the long-term backup. And I hope, somewhere in the footnotes of that volume, is a quote from Steeler Nation.

"We were wrong."