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JETS FALL SHORT...AGAIN

By John Melillo
Jets Insider.com, Staff Writer
January 15th, 2005
The New York Jets pushed the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC to the ultimate test tonight, only to see their season and Super Bowl aspirations come to an abrupt halt in overtime 20-17. The Jets went toe-to-toe with the heavyweight Pittsburgh Steelers for 60 minutes and twice had the opportunity to clinch a trip to the AFC Championship game in the waning minutes of regulation. Instead, normally reliable Jets PK Doug Brien clanked his first FG attempt (47 yards) off the crossbar and shanked his second attempt (43 yards) wide left. Brien’s failure to boot his team deeper into playoff contention undoubtedly has left a sense of unfinished business for the Jets as they depart the football field for the final time this season.

The New York Jets pushed the No. 1 playoff seed in the AFC to the ultimate test tonight, only to see their season and Super Bowl aspirations come to an abrupt halt in overtime 20-17. The Jets went toe-to-toe with the heavyweight Pittsburgh Steelers for 60 minutes and twice had the opportunity to clinch a trip to the AFC Championship game in the waning minutes of regulation. Instead, normally reliable Jets PK Doug Brien clanked his first FG attempt (47 yards) off the crossbar and shanked his second attempt (43 yards) wide left. Brien’s failure to boot his team deeper into playoff contention undoubtedly has left a sense of unfinished business for the Jets as they depart the football field for the final time this season.

Early on, it appeared the Steelers were poised to route the visiting Jets, as they grabbed a quick 10-0 advantage. However, the Jets counter-punched the mighty Steelers and their rowdy faithful with 17 unanswered points. The 17-10 advantage for the Jets was erased with just six minutes remaining as the defense fell prey to another gimmick play by the Steelers inside the red zone, this time a 4-yard shovel pass to WR Hines Ward to knot the game 17-17.

Then the nightmare for Brien and the Jets’ faithful would begin.

The Jets’ offense would take over at their own 24-yard line. On the first play, RB Curtis Martin pounded up the middle for four yards. QB Chad Pennington then threw a 22-yard strike to WR Justin McCareins, who nabbed five receptions for 82 yards in the game. An end around to rookie WR Jerricho Cotchery resulted in no gain. Pennington then executed a screen pass to perfection as Martin followed his blockers downfield for 17 yards. Now in field goal range, Jets offensive coordinator Paul Hackett played it conservative, as Martin and RB LaMont Jordan banged out five yards on two carries. After Pennington’s third down pass fell incomplete to WR Wayne Chrebet, PK Doug Brien trotted onto the field to attempt a 47-yard field goal with two minutes remaining. Lined up along the left hash mark, Brien’s kick fell inches short of being good. Instead, the clank of the pigskin against the crossbar will feverishly replay in the minds of Jets faithful for the foreseeable future.

The Steelers and their fans collectively breathed a huge sigh of relief. Rookie sensation QB Ben Roethlisberger and the offense took the field in an attempt to cash in on the Jets’ missed opportunity. Instead, the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year sailed a poorly thrown pass right into the waiting arms of Jets CB David Barrett on the first play, giving the Jets another golden opportunity. Starting at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line, the Jets offense could only muster 13 net yards before giving Brien a shot at redemption. With four ticks remaining, Brien’s 43-yard attempt sailed wide left to the utter dismay of his teammates.

So for the third time in as many weeks, the New York Jets were going to play in overtime.

The Jets won the coin toss to open the extended period, only to be stymied by a penalty. After a critical 13-yard reception by McCareins to convert a third down was upheld, the Jets self-imploded as TE Anthony Becht was called for holding as Martin bounced a run outside. The Jets’ offense was unable to overcome the 10-yard infraction and was forced to punt.

After P Toby Gowin launched a 54-yard punt to pin the Steelers at their own 13-yard line, the Jets would allow a 14-play, 72 yard drive that would culminate in the deciding points for Pittsburgh. The Steelers turned to their punishing run game to advance them to the AFC Championship game. The bruising legs of RB Duce Staley would churn out 30 yards on seven carries during the drive. A critical third-down was converted by backup RB Verron Haynes and WR Hines Ward continued his steady production with three receptions for 32 yards as the Steelers moved into place for PK Jeff Reed’s 33-yard FG to end a thrilling game 20-17.

Head coach Bill Cowher was quick to commend the Jets for their relentless effort and determination following the game.

“To play three consecutive overtime games, I tell you, my hat goes off to Herm (Edwards), that team and their whole staff,” Cowher said.

Indeed, the Jets displayed the heart of a champion, competing against a 15-1 team that everyone had predicted to roll over the Green & White. Instead, the Jets’ valiant performance versus the favored Steelers resulted in arguably one of the most thrilling playoff games in recent memory.

The big plays began on the Jets fourth possession, as Pennington misfired and was intercepted by Steelers’ Pro Bowl S Troy Polamalu. The Steelers capitalized, driving 25 yards to take a quick 10-0 lead. During the second quarter, the Jets’ offense found some rhythm, as Pennington guided an 11-play, 38-yard drive that would result in a 42-yard field goal by Doug Brien. The promising drive stalled after Pennington was sacked twice and Martin was thrown for a one-yard loss.

Neither offense was able to muster any points on the ensuing possessions, so Jets WR/PR Santana Moss took matters into his own hands late in the first half. Fielding a Steelers’ punt, Moss threw a juke, before cutting up field for a 75-yard TD return. Moss’ score was the first Jets’ punt return for a touchdown in team history. It also marked the third punt return for a touchdown in Moss’ career. The score now stood 10-10 at halftime.

On the Steelers’ second possession of the second half, Roethlisberger and the offense would threaten by driving to the Jets’ 33-yard line. The Jets’ defense would bend no more. Under pressure, Roethlisberger gift-wrapped an interception into the waiting arms of S Reggie Tongue, who raced down the sideline untouched for an 86-yard interception return. The defensive score had stunned the thousands of Steelers' faithful on hand and recaptured momentum for the Jets.

By the start of the fourth quarter, the Steelers looked poised to re-gain momentum and tie the game. DE Shaun Ellis, who predicted a Jets’ win tonight, made his presence felt by knifing through the line and forcing a fumble by RB Jerome Bettis. The fumble by Bettis had been his first in 323 carries. Rookie S Erik Coleman pounced on the ball and the Jets appeared to be well on their way to a stunning upset.

Unfortunately, the Jets’ offense failed to make a first down and quickly gave possession back to the Steelers after three plays. A steady dose of Steelers’ RBs Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis helped Pittsburgh get into scoring range, before Ward’s four-yard shovel pass tied the game.

MISCELLANEOUS TIDBITS: In a repeat performance, the Jets’ defense harassed Roethlisberger throughout the game, as the rookie QB finished 17-of-30 for 181 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

-The Jets’ defense was unable to stop the Steelers’ pounding running game as RB Jerome Bettis finished with 101 yards on 13 carries and RB Duce Staley had 54 yards on 11 carries.

-Defensive Rookie of the Year LB Jonathan Vilma unofficially led the team in tackles (17).

The Jets’ held big-play WR Plaxico Burress in-check, as he managed just two receptions for 28 yards. However, Pro Bowl WR Hines Ward made a big impact with 10 catches for 105 yards and one touchdown in the game.

After their 12 first half infractions during the first meeting, the Jets were only penalized four times for 35 yards.

The Jets’ offense struggled mightily, as they managed just three points all game. They had 275 total yards on 63 plays (4.4 yards per play). Pennington, who finished 21 of 33 for 182 yards and one interception, was sacked three times.

-Martin churned out 77 rush yards on 19 carries vs. a stingy Steelers’ defense to go along with four catches for 29 yards. Reserve RB LaMont Jordan had five carries for 30 yards.

-Punter Tobin Gowin struggled initially, booting two 32-yard kicks in the first quarter. Gowin later redeemed himself in the first half, fielding a high snap for PK Doug Brien to boot a 42-yard field goal. Gowin also launched a 54-yard kick in overtime.

The Jets declared G Dave Yovanovits, DE John Abraham, WR Jonathan Carter, OT Marko Cavka, QB Quincy Carter, S Rashad Washington, QB Ricky Ray and CB Roderick Bryant inactive for today’s playoff game.

Check back often to Jets Insider.com for all the latest team news and reports.

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