STARS OF THE GAME
5. Jets CB David Barrett: "Barnett" didn't impress you, huh Plaxico? Well, he should have. Barrett, the former Arizona Cardinal who was signed in the off-season and dramatically picked up his level of play in the second half of the season, flat out shutdown Plaxico Burress. In what was predicted by experts to be a severe mismatch that favored the Steelers, the 5'10 Barrett held the 6'5 Burress to 2 catches for 28 yards. Barrett also recorded 7 tackles in the game playing good run support and intercepted Ben Roethlisberger on what should have led to a Jets win. Barrett, who was the recipient of some "tough love" from Donnie Henderson throughout the year, really turned his play around as he became more and more comfortable in the Henderson’s system. He should be even better next year.
4. Steelers WR Hines Ward: Roesthlisberger's go-to receiver and a big emotional leader of the team was the lone bright spot in the Steelers' passing attack. Big Ben had his worst performance as a pro, but when the Steelers needed to drive down the field and score a TD, Roesthlisberger picked it up just enough, as he was aided by Ward, who made 10 catches for 105 yards and a TD. Wards make the tough 3rd down catches in traffic as one could see how he gets his reputation as being one of the toughest WR's in the NFL. Seeing Ward's all around game consisting of punishing blocking, clutch catches, and big plays in general it is no wonder why he is considered by some the best WR in the NFL.
3. Steelers CB Willie Williams: The Jets planned to attack the 5'9 Williams in this contest but Williams was up to the challenge. He finished with 11 tackles and had a great coverage throughout the day. Williams for most of the contest was up against the 6'2 Justin McCareins and held him to 5 catches for 83 yards. He also broke up a deep pass intended for an streaking Santana Moss in the end zone which would have tied the game at 10. Two downs later, Pennington was sacked and the Jets were forced to punt. Williams came to play in the big game showing it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, but the size of the fight in the dog.
2. Steelers RB Jerome Bettis: The Bus showed on Saturday that he still has some gas left in the tank as he carried the load on offense by rushing 27 times for 101 yards and scoring a TD. Bettis was the only source of consistent offense throughout the day due to the shaky play of his rookie QB. The Steelers have been so successful based on their physical running game featuring Bettis and Duce Staley that keeps opposing defenses on the field while wearing them down. The running game led by Bettis was even more important on Saturday as Roethlisberger struggled.
1. Steelers SS Troy Polamalu: Watching this game it seemed like every time the Steelers were on defense, #43 was around the ball. The 2nd year Pro Bowler out of USC is the definition of a playmaker. Polamalu, who plagued QB Chad Pennington in their last meeting with an interception, picked off the Jets QB again on Saturday which set up a Steelers TD and at the time, a ten point Pittsburgh lead. Playing in zone near the line of scrimmage as he normally does, Polamalu, covering Becht in the flat, came out of his coverage and jumped in front of the pass intended for Santana Moss. Besides the INT, Polamalu, had 7 tackles. In a tight game where points are at a premium and field position is vital, having someone like Polamalu on defense to take the ball away and set up good field position is a great weapon to have.
GOATS OF THE GAME:
1. Jets K Doug Brien: A no brainer here. The usually dependable Brien simply collapsed when the Jets needed him most as he missed a 47 yard FG with 1:58 remaining and the score tied at 17. The Jets were lucky enough to get the ball back after a Steelers turnover and after a few plays that moved the Jets into makable field goal range, the veteran kicker severely hooked a 42 yard field goal at the close of regulation that would have propelled the Jets to their first AFC Championship game since 1998. Yes, the ultra-conservative Jets could have tried to get closer, but these field goals have been made by Brien all year long, and he is paid a lot of money to make those kicks. Brien simply choked. He got a second chance after his first miss (a kicker's dream) but couldn’t come through. Brien simply let his team down and probably secured himself a ticket out of NY.
2. Jets OC Paul Hackett: After one of his best called games of the year last week where he aggressively stretched the Chargers' defense, Hackett went back into his shell. 2nd and 10 draw plays and 3rd and 10 2 yard out patterns do not win championships. Hackett seemed to have no plan as to how to exploit the Steelers' weaknesses on defense. In fact he played to their strengths as he continually ran up the middle and threw short passes over the middle. Furthermore, the offense again forgot about explosive RB LaMont Jordan who was more suited to run against Pittsburgh. Finally, the conservative calls when the team was trying to get into FG range ultimately doomed the Jets fate. Although a lot of this goes on Herm as well, Hackett's act is so tired and his firing can not come soon enough.
-The Jets defense was simply amazing. They contained the Steelers' physical running game despite two straight overtime games on the road, made rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger look well, like...a rookie. The Jets defense forced 3 turnovers and held the Steelers to 17 points, giving the Jets two chances to win the game. The Steelers finally broke the fatigued Jets defense after Brien missed two field goals but I couldn't be more proud of the effort made during this game and the overall job Donnie Henderson has done this season. As a unit, the Jets defense was amazing throughout the year and should be proud of what they accomplished. They say “defense wins championships” and if that’s true, the Jets future looks very bright.
-Santana Moss had an beautiful 75 yard punt return for a TD which tied the game at 10 and changed the whole complexion of the game. It's amazing what you can accomplish when you stay in bounds, Santana.
-Chad Pennington was not the sole reason the Jets lost but his play didn’t help their cause very much. His interception resulted in 7 points for Pittsburgh and when you and add that he couldn't lead the offense to any touchdowns, that 7 points looms large. You can’t expect to win a championship with no offensive TD’s. Hopefully, off-season surgery of his shoulder and a new offensive coordinator next season will bring Pennington back to the elite status of NFL QB’s. The Jets have $64MM banking on it.
MY TWO CENTS:
Being a younger Jets fan, this was the toughest loss I have experienced and the pain I feel now I would say officially baptizes me as a Jets Fan for life. The Steelers overall are a more talented team but this is devastating due to the fact the Jets played better and deserved to win. The team made me believe they were a "team of destiny," but as usual they were just toying us, as they again turned out to be the "Same old' Jets." The team did though have a great overall year and earned respect throughout the league with their performances in the playoffs. Thanks to a young talented base of players, it seems with a few tweaks the Jets should be a favorite to win it all next season. Stay strong Jets Fans, there are better days ahead!