STARS OF THE GAME:
Former Jets LB James Farrior haunted his old team on Sunday. (Jets Insider.com Photo)
5. Jets MLB Jonathan Vilma: The rookie out of Miami continues to play like the Defensive Rookie of the Year as he responded to Pittsburgh's physical running game by making 8 tackles and forcing a fumble. Viilma slipped by many tackles using his intelligence and quickness a la Ray Lewis as he and the other members of the Jet front seven contained the Steelers physical running attack. Vilma, takes advantage of the great play of Dewayne Robertson as Robertson continues to blow up double teams leaving Vilma free to make the tackles. Vilma has brought much more intensity, speed, and leadership to the Jets defense and is one of the main reasons why the Jets defense has been so productive this year.
4 Steelers SS Troy Polamalu: The Jets couldn't seem to keep the ball away from the Steelers' play-making safety. Polamolu showed great all-around skills, registering 9 tackles, including many near the line in run support and superior athleticism in coverage as ran over towards the sideline and leaped in front of Santana Moss, who slipped on a comeback route and picked off Chad Pennington's pass. Palamolu and FS Chris Hope combined for two interceptions shutting down the middle of the field, and punishing the Jets wide receivers who dared to test them with punishing hits. Polamalu has made big plays throughout the year and is one of the reasons Pittsburgh's defense so terrifying.
3. Jets DE Bryan Thomas: Starting in the place of John Abraham, the former first round draft pick by the Jets in 2002, who has been labeled a bust by many Jet fans, stepped up to the plate. Being tested throughout the day as the Steelers ran at him with RBís Duce Staley and Jerome Bettis, Thomas showed good "pop" at the point of attack as he registered 8 tackles. He also showed improved inside rushing moves as he slipped by the Pitt T Marvel Smith as he made a couple tackles behind the line and pressured Roethisberger on occasion. Thomas has obviously matured into a fine player for the Jets and should get more playing time when Abraham returns from his injury. All-in-all, Thomas and his defensive line held steady without their best player and went nose-to-nose with one of the more physical offense in the NFL.
2. Steelers LB James Farrior: Why did the Jets ever get rid of this guy? Weeks after sticking it to his former coach Bill Parcells, Farrior decided to show the Jets what they missed as he had 11 tackles and an interception. Farrior was part of a Steelers front 7 that contained the Jets' potent rushing attack. He also showed off his sideline-to-sideline speed as he chased down the recipients of Pennington's check down passes on numerous occasions and then stole a pass from Pennington intended for Justin McCareins. Farrior has developed into a top-notch player within Dick LeBeau's "Blitzburgh" defensive scheme and he should be getting an invite to Hawaii for the 2005 Pro-Bowl.
1. Steelers RB Jerome Bettis: Somebody forgot to tell the Jets that "The Bus" is still running strong. The Steelers, as opposed to the Jets, effectively used their change-of-pace, bruising back-up running back effectively against a worn-down Jets defense in the second half as Bettis gained 57 yards on 10 carries. The running back ran over a fatigued Reggie Tongue, er, Jets defense in typical Bettis fashion and even showed he still has a good burst off tackle as he ran around Reggie Tongue, er, the Jets defense and scored a game-sealing TD run with less than three minutes remaining in the game. Bettis also threw for a TD on a beautiful play-call, a halfback option after multiple long runs up the middle. Hey, when you run for long gains up the middle, and youíre in a jumbo set, teams are naturally going to over-commit, and that's just what the Jets did as Bettis flipped the ball to a wide open TE in the endzone after. In a tight, physical game like this, the ability to run against a fatigued defense could prove vital. Bettis re-energized the Steelers offense in a way LaMont Jordan could have for the Jets. Bettis could prove to be the X-factor to the Steeler playoff run considering his bruising style of running and how important it is to run this time of year when weather conditions limit what can be done through the air.
GOAT OF THE GAME:
Jets QB Chad Pennington: This is painful for me to write but Pennington must be held accountable. The Jets signed Chad Pennington in the pre-season to a long term deal which only a franchise quarterback could earn. Pennington is a very good NFL quarterback, but has yet to prove he is a franchise quarterback. A franchise quarterback would have put his team on his back in the 2nd half and won the game for them. He would not throw 3 interceptions in one of the biggest games of the season. Pennington, who threw 5 interceptions in last year's matchup against the Patriots following his injury, played poorly again against Pittsburgh. There is no disputing that he is a great leader and is very accurate. He completes a high percentage of passes and makes very few mistakes against average teams.
Excuses could be made such as Hackett holding him back or no having enough weapons around him or maybe his shoulder is still bothering him, but as documented, this isn't the first time he's folded in the big game and way too many fans let him off the hook because he is a fan favorite. Unless Pennington can pick up his game and play like the quarterback everyone thinks he can become, the Jets have no shot at making a run.
- Hackett utilized his wide receivers a lot more in this game. Pennington completed 11 of his 17 passes to WR's and this is a bright spot considering Pennington is the most accurate QB in the NFL on passes that go for more than 20 yards. Hackett called a balanced game and took his shots deep.
-The offensive line protected Pennington well despite many blitzes. They did not dominate the Steelers but the Jets ran well enough to win.
-P Toby Gowin punted very well, averaging 44.2 yard per punt and kept the ball out of Steelersí Antwaan Randel El's hands.
-CB David Barrett is the most improved player on the Jets. Barrett has shown terrific man coverage skills as he had a near interception and broke up three deep passes.
-The Jets defense is one of the best in the NFL and they kept the Jets in the game as well as many others, but in particular, the front seven played great. DeWayne Robertson and Jason Ferguson had great games as they ate up double teams and Shaun Ellis played well as he registered 1.5 sacks. Vilma, Barton and Brown were very active in the running game as the Jets continue to show off their improved team speed.
-As mentioned, where was LaMont Jordan? Jordan can be much more explosive than Martin and is much more capable of breaking the big run.
-Penalties. Seems as though the Steelers had the refs in their pocket but still, 12 penalties is inexcusable. The Jets could have run away with the game in the first half but they continually shot themselves in the foot with stupid penalties.
PLAY OF THE GAME:
On 3rd and 4 on their own 37 yard line with 5:21 remaining and up by four points, after the same play failed two plays ago on first down, Roethisberger hit a wide-open Lee Mays who ran a double move, an out-n-up, and burned the veteran Terrell Buckley, who has a reputation of being over-aggressive. This play put the Steelers in the Jets red zone with 5:00 remaining in the 4th quarter, leaving the Jets little hope of winning. The Steelers eventually scored another TD and ended the game.
STAT OF THE GAME:
Jets: 12 penalties for 84 yards
Steelers: 2 penalties for 15 yards
MY TWO CENTS:
We heard all last week about the Jets not getting the respect they thought they deserved. Now we see why they donít really deserve that respect. By beating the Steelers at their home field playing their brand of football...smash mouth football all could have changed and the Jets could have finally been considered a top notch team and not just an average team that has taken advantage of a weak schedule. Instead, by playing slopilly, turning over the ball and committing 12 penalties the Jets were flat. If you're going to talk tough, you're going to have to back it up. Many questions were answered in this game. The Jets are a good team but not quite a great one. This is a devastating loss to everyone who bleeds green. There are no moral victories in December.