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Jets can't catchup at Heinz, fall to Steelers
By John Melillo
Jets Insider.com, Staff Writer
December 12th, 2004

The Jets traded punches with the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers for three periods in a low-scoring slugfest that saw the Jets eventually fall short 17-6. Battling within the hostile confines of Heinz Field, the Jets provided a commendable effort, only to see it spoiled by the arm and legs of Steelers’ backup RB Jerome Bettis.

The Jets traded punches with the mighty Pittsburgh Steelers for three periods in a low-scoring slugfest that saw the Jets eventually fall short 17-6. Battling within the hostile confines of Heinz Field, the Jets provided a commendable effort, only to see it spoiled by the arm and legs of Steelers’ backup RB Jerome Bettis.

All week long, the Jets saw it coming. The Pittsburgh Steelers’ style on offense is to pound their opponents into submission behind a brutally physical line and the churning legs of RBs Duce Staley and Jerome "The Bus" Bettis. For the majority of the afternoon, the Jets’ defense rose to the challenge until a halfback option pass by Bettis duped them. On the play, “The Bus” headed right, slammed on his brakes and lofted a 10-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open TE Jerame Tuman for the decisive points in the Week 14 battle.

While the Steelers produced in crunch-time, the Jets failed to cash in numerous opportunities to seize momentum and change the tide of Sunday’s game. Uncharacteristically, the Jets were penalized 12 times for 84 yards during the game, all within the first 30 minutes of regulation. The team’s self-implosion negated big plays produced by both sides of the ball. On the opening kickoff, the Jets received, but were unable to amass any resemblance of an offense under the intense pressure of a blitzing Steelers’ defense. Of their four possessions in the first half, three resulted in punts and the other ended on an interception after Pennington under threw a pass intended for WR Santana Moss along the sidelines. Fortunately for Gang Green, the defense stepped up its game by limiting rookie sensation QB Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense to a 34-yard field goal in the opening quarter.

On their first offensive drive of the second quarter, the Jets began to find some rhythm. Pennington appeared more poised and confident behind an offensive line that held up well against the various blitzes and schemes the Steelers have been notorious for. The nine-play possession did not produce any points, even after Pennington was able to hook up with Moss on a 39-yard strike and backup RB LaMont Jordan exploded down the left sideline for 30 yards Both plays had been wiped out by by penalties. After the Jets were forced to punt, they had apparently forced a turnover after CB Donnie Abraham stripped the ball from WR Hines Ward following a 17-yard catch and run. Instead, Abraham was called for illegal contact prior to the pass and the Steelers retained possession.

The defense eventually forced a punt, but the offense was given poor field position following a 33-yard boot by Chris Gardocki that landed inside the Jet 5-yard line. Following two consecutive false-start penalties, Pennington and the offense were pushed back to their own two-yard line. Standing in his own end zone, Pennington dropped back and found WR Wayne Chrebet for 11 yards on the next play. Facing third-and-one, the Jets dialed up a pass that saw Pennington hit WR Justin McCareins for nine yards. Pennington would go on to complete his next five passes during a 17-play drive that was short-circuited by former Jet LB James Farrior, who picked off an under thrown Pennington pass. Pennington completed 17 of 31 passes for 189 yards and three interceptions in the game.

By the start of the third quarter, the Jets let another golden opportunity slip literally through their hands. On the Steelers’ second play from scrimmage, LB Mark Brown forced a fumble by RB Duce Staley that somehow Staley recovered in an enormous scrum.

After a Steelers’ punt, the Jets drove 71 yards on nine plays that would result in a 43-yard field goal by PK Doug Brien to knot the game at 3-3. On the drive, Pennington lofted a perfectly thrown bomb down the sidelines to McCareins, who managed to keep his feet in bounds for a 43-yard gain. McCareins, who also had an 18-yard reception on the drive, finished the game with four receptions for 78 yards.

The Jets’ defense gave the ball right back to Pennington and the offense CB Donnie Abraham deflected a pass into the hands of S Reggie Tongue, who returned it 23 yards to midfield. Unfortunately, the Jets squandered the good field position by going three and out.

Near the end of the third quarter, RB Jerome Bettis had been re-inserted into the lineup and wound up the decisive factor in the game. After Ward burned Jets CB Terrell Buckley for a 26-yard reception, the Steelers handed the ball to Bettis on four consecutive runs that produced 21 bruising yards. With the Jets’ defense expecting run, that’s when the Steelers called the halfback option play that provided one of the few blemishes on an otherwise magnificent performance by the defensive unit. Bettis’ scoring toss to Tuman made the score 10-3 and turned up the pressure on the Jets’ offense.

The Jets’ next possession resulted in a 41-yard field goal by Brien to cut the deficit to 10-6. Heavily featured on the 14-play drive was RB Curtis Martin, who rushed for 23 yards on five carries.

With just six minutes left and a defense stop needed, Buckley bit on Roethlisberger play-fake, which resulted in a 46-yard reception by Steelers WR Lee Mays. The drive culminated with a 12-yard scoring scamper by Bettis, which increased the Steelers’ lead to 17-6.

With one eye on the game clock, the Jets’ offense took the field to attempt a miraculous comeback, but fell short after Pennington overthrew a pass intended for Chrebet that resulted in his third interception of the game.

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS: Martin rushed for 72 yards on 24 carries and has moved into fifth place on the all-time rushing list ahead of Bettis.

-The aforementioned Jets’ defense limited the Steelers’ potent rushing attack to just 122 total yards, well below their seasonal average (152.2). In addition, Pro Bowl WR Hines Ward was held to just two receptions for 38 yards.

-CB Donnie Abraham was involved in both takeaways after picking off a Roethlisberger desperation pass at the end of the first half and his deflection that led to Tongue’s theft. Overall, the pass defense seemed to frustrate Roethlisberger, who finished with just 9 of 19 for 144 yards and the two picks.

-P Toby Gowin enjoyed a stellar game, booting five punts for a 44.2 average, including one inside the 20-yard line. Gowin’s numbers would have been even better had reserve LB Darrell McClover not accidentally stepped on the goal line while covering a punt. More importantly, Steelers’ dangerous return man WR Antwaan Randle El finished with a minus three yards on two punt returns.

-Rookie LB Jonathan Vilma led the team with six tackles.

INJURY REPORT: DE Shaun Ellis recorded four tackles and a sack before exiting the game late in the fourth quarter with apparent leg injury. There were no other reported injuries.

-The team declared QB Brooks Bollinger, OG Dave Yovanovits, CB Derrick Strait, WR Jerricho Cotchery, DE John Abraham, OT Marko Cavka, QB Ricky Ray and LB Victor Hobson inactive this week.

The 9-4 Jets return home for their Week 15 match up versus the 7-6 Seattle Seahawks next Sunday. Check back often to Jets Insider.com for all the latest team news and reports.