Other than the long touchdown pass, there really was not much worth mentioning in the early goings of the second half. But so many facets of that play are worth pointing out on their own.
To begin with, the play is set up perfectly after the back-to-back carries beforehand. Not only that, but Todd Haley had been stretching the defense horizontally all game with the early screen passes. It tested the hubris of Rex Ryan, playing close to the box, which left Emmanuel Sanders one-on-one with a less than 100 percent Antonio Cromartie with a hyperextended knee.
Secondly, the move that Sanders puts on Cromartie is just a wonderful exhibition all on its own. As is his reputation, Cromartie had been mugging the Pittsburgh Steelers’ receivers all game, but Sanders’ move was so fluid as he crossed right in front of him that he was unable to even grab on, which instead of drawing a pass interference penalty, resulted in a long touchdown.
Which would not have happened if not for the best deep ball that Ben Roethlisberger has thrown all season. The Steelers have been working on the deep pass all season, particularly with Sanders, and it finally clicked on all cylinders for the first time in this play, which resulted in a 55-yard touchdown pass.
Also of note is, of course, the very first turnover that the defense has forced all season long. Many have rightfully pointed out the role that William Gay played in making the play happen. Not only did he jam the receiver on a play in which Geno Smith was throwing to a spot rather than to a man, he also called out the play before the snap, helping Ryan Clark pick up on where he could freelance, which allowed him to be in position to make the play in the first place. Notice that there is a New York Jets receiver standing in the middle of the end zone uncovered by the end of the play.
Shamarko Thomas did not have his best showing of the season on special teams during the first half, but the second half was more representative, as he prevented yet another punt from being returned.
After the downed punt, Vince Williams made yet another play that just makes you want to forget about all of his down moments and just praise how far he has come in such a short time. Once he sees Nick Mangold release Steve McLendon, he reads screen pass and breaks onto the back, beating Mangold’s block attempt to blow up the play in the backfield for a loss of two.
On the very next play, it is Cortez Allen with the heady awareness, diagnosing the quarterback keeper. He avoids the blocking attempt of Stephen Hill and zeros in on Smith, bringing him down for a loss of two.
On the ensuing offensive drive, the officials finally call Antonio Cromartie out for his hands-on approach of man coverage as Roethlisberger targets Antonio Brown deep down the field. Of course, Cromartie would gladly settle for the 25-yard pass interference as long as it saves a touchdown, which it may well have.
After that, the drive appeared to be stalled after two failed short passes that netted zero yards, but Roethlisberger scrambled on third and 10 for the first down to set up first and goal at the two.
Of course, the drive then stalled soon thereafter, forcing the Steelers to settle for their fourth field goal.
It stalled in part because of a failed gadget play on third down. Upon initial viewing, I gave Antonio Brown credit for holding on to the ball rather than taking a risky throw. However, after further review, he had Emmanuel Sanders wide open in the end zone before he was even pressured, on a throw that he should have been able to hit. He could have thrown the pass when the nearest rusher was still 10 yards away.
But of course, wide receivers are graded on a curve when it comes to their quarterback play for obvious reasons.
Muhammad Wilkerson had been giving the offensive line fits all afternoon—he was the one that almost sacked Roethlisberger for a safety early in the game—and he finally broke through in the fourth quarter. He beat Ramon Foster cleanly off the snap with a simple move and was on Roethlisberger immediately for the sack.
Jarvis Jones really had an up and down game, with some of the highest highs and lowest lows thus far of his career. The last drive was a microcosm of that. On one play, he gets sucked in for a big run, and a few plays later he is getting pressure and eventually forcing a poor enough throw to be picked off.
I believe I have been more critical than most of Lawrence Timmons and his start to this season. And he only deserves so much credit for being able to stand 15 yards away and catch an object with his hands without it hitting the ground. But I do see signs of him rounding into form. He makes some plays, of course, but the Steelers need more consistency out of him. But given how scarce turnovers have been this season, beggars cannot be choosers.
I found it interesting to note that, when the Steelers faced a third and short situation, they took the ball out of Le’Veon Bell’s hands and brought in Jonathan Dwyer to get the yardage—which he did.
That first down helped the Steelers drain much of what was left of the clock, leaving the Jets with barely a quarter of a minute with a two-score deficit. As much as the running game struggled in the first half, it did perk up some in the second.