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Letdowns happen in the NFL. Even the best teams in the league suffer them. On Sunday from the Meadowlands in East Rutherford, NJ, it was the Steelers who took that role in a horribly-played loss to the New York Jets, losers of eight straight games.
Steelers' quarterback Ben Roethlisberger sputtered and stumbled his way to his worst afternoon of throwing the ball all season long, tossing two interceptions while the team turned the ball over four times in a gut-wrenching 20-13 loss that was more lopsided than the final score appeared.
New York set the tone early with a time-consuming, 12-play, 78 yard drive that stalled at the Steelers 5-yard line and led to the game's opening points on a boot by Jets' kicker Nick Folk of 23 yards.
Antonio Brown continued his career-season with a first-quarter catch that put him over the 1,000 yard mark faster than any wide receiver in Steelers' history. Le'Veon Bell also set a franchise mark for most catches by a running back in the first half.
But those were the only highlights of the day, save an 80-yard, last-ditch touchdown pass from Roethlsiberger to Martavis Bryant. Shaun Suisham's onside kick attempt after it might as well have not even happened, and the Jets knelt out the clock for the win.
After the Steelers were forced to punt later in the first, it only took one play for the Jets to catch more momentum as Vick slung a perfect pass deep down the middle that found the hands of T J Graham who beat Willie Gay's coverage to make it 10-0 New York. It was also the longest play allowed by the Steelers' defense this season.
The bad karma snowballed on the next drive, as Antonio Brown took a quick-screen from Ben Roethlisberger, only to lose control of the ball as he was going down. The Jets recovered and took over at the Steelers 20. It wasn't long before New York was back in the end zone, as Vick hit rookie tight-end Jase Amaro with a 5-yard score in the back corner, beating safety Mike Mitchell for a 17-0 lead.
It took a 15-minute beatdown to wake up the Steelers, but only for so long, as they began a lengthy drive from their 30-yard line that lasted nearly eight minutes. On a 2nd-and-8 from the New York 10, Roethlisberger looked for his rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant on a double-post at the goal line. The play was defended by Jets corner Marcus Williams, who got a hand in to slap the ball from Bryant and causing it to pop up into the air for Jets' free safety Jaiquawn Jarrett to swoop in and scoop it up before hitting the ground. This marked the Steelers' fourth red-zone turnover of the season, the most in the NFL.
The Steelers then held New York, causing what appeared to be a Jets' turnover on a Mike Vick fumble by the sideline on a 3rd-and-long play. After a lengthy review, however, the officials said Vick's knee was down before the ball came loose and led to a punt that was promptly fumbled by Antonio Brown and recovered by Gang Green at the Steelers 28-yard line. But the Jets, in typical fashion, missed on a chance to extend the lead when Nick Folk hooked a 45-yard kick wide left.
This left 51 seconds on the clock and gave the ball back to the Steelers on the 35. Ben engineered a six-play, 30-yard drive that gave kicker Shaun Suisham a crack at a 53-yard field goal that was good, making the score 17-3 at the half.
Catching points to end the half and getting the ball to start the third quarter, the Steelers were in a position to get back into the game. After marching into Jets territory, it looked like that was going to happen until Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the game, as Jaiquawn Jarrett came up big again for the New York defense. He also added a fumble recovery, a sack and 10 total tackles to his impressive afternoon.
A rather nondescript third quarter saw the Jets add a Nick Folk 30-yard field goal to extend their lead to 17 points. The Steelers then put a drive together that led to a 3rd-and-1 at the Jets 6-yard line. However, with the clock under 15 seconds and moving, the Black-and-Gold decided to go hurry-up and run a dive with Le'Veon Bell. The play promptly lost a yard and forced the club to kick a 23-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter. But it was shanked badly by Suisham, marking the shortest field goal attempt missed in the league this year.
A late Suisham field goal did little to help the Steelers' cause, as they made one mistake after another in this game, one that they let get away starting from the opening kickoff. They must now regroup and travel to Nashville next week to play another struggling club in the 2-7 Tennessee Titans at LP Field.