By Matthew Marczi
The Pittsburgh Steelers took a lead into the second half for the first time this season, as they held a 9-6 lead over the New York Jets. The Jets received the opening kickoff of the third quarter, however, and it could have gone the distance if Shaun Suisham had not tackled him near the sideline after getting out to the 26.
Geno Smith’s first pass was a miscommunication with his receiver, which gave William Gay a chance to make a play on the ball, but he was too far away to intercept it. A four-yard gain on second down set up third and six. On third down, the pass, intended for Stephen Hill, fell incomplete with Troy Polamalu on the blitz.
Antonio Brown got a decent return after a strong punt, which gave the Steelers starting field position at their own 36. Le’Veon Bell had his best run of the day through that point on first down, gaining seven yards after totaling just nine on eight carries. He gained just one on second down, but the carries set up play action to release Emmanuel Sanders down the field, with he and Ben Roethlisberger connecting on a long 55-yard touchdown to give the Steelers their biggest lead of the year at 16-6.
Geno Smith was able to find his tight end for a big gain into Steelers territory, and Chris Ivory carried for six down to the Steelers’ 40. Clyde Gates converted the first down near field goal range. Ivory crossed the 30 on a five-yard carry one play later, but he was stopped after two yards by Lawrence Timmons on second down.
Bilal Powell was able to convert the third down, but Ryan Clark was able to get the Steelers’ first turnover of the year right at the goal line with an interception. A momentous occasion indeed. Sacks, a turnover, and a second-half lead.
On second down, Felix Jones showed some speed to get to the edge on a running play for a first down on second and 11, which got the Steelers out of the shadow of their own end zone. Two plays later, Roethlisberger had a pass tipped at the line after Marcus Gilbert was walked back in the pocket, and the ball was nearly intercepted. On third and eight, Sanders was unable to haul in a high, arcing pass near the sidelines to force a punt, which went 48 yards and rolled out of bounds at the 25 to flip the field.
Vince Williams blew up a running back screen in the backfield for a two-yard loss on first down. On second down, it was Cortez Allen stopping Smith on a keeper for a loss. On third and 14, Smith’s pass sailed out of bounds for a quick three and out.
The rash of penalties continued, however, as Curtis Brown was flagged for an illegal block in the back on the punt return, which would have given the Steelers their best starting field position of the day. Starting instead from the 21, Bell carried for three on first down. Roethlisberger threw the ball away on second down, but Antonio Brown came through with the conversion for his eighth reception of the game.
Roethlisberger went deep to Brown on play action on the following play, and Antonio Cromartie was flagged for pass interference, resulting in a 25-yard gain. A quick screen to Bell gained three, and Roethlisberger found Heath Miller in open space with some room to run for a 22-yard gain to get up first and ten from the 12.
Brown could not work Miller’s block on a screen on first down, which resulted in no gain on first down, but it was Brown’s 30th catch in a three-game span. On second down, Will Johnson slipped on a short pass for no gain to end the third quarter. On third and ten from the 12, the Steelers went five side, and Roethlisberger kept it for the first down to set up first and goal from the two.
Le’Veon Bell was stopped for a loss of two on first down by nose tackle Damon Harrison, setting up second and a long four. Roethlisberger just barely got the pass away on second down, but Kelvin Beachum was flagged again for holding, making it second and goal from the 14. The Steelers again went five wide, and Roethlisberger completed a pass to Bell for seven yards.
Now third and seven, the Steelers attempted to run another gadget play with Brown, but he smartly took a loss rather than attempt a pass that he was not comfortable throwing. Suisham was good on his fourth field goal of the day, making him 10-for-10 on the year and giving the Steelers a 19-6 lead. The field goal, however, keeps it a two-possession game.
Stephen Hill was good for a first down on the Jets’ first play after a touchback. Mike Goodson was good for three yards on the following play, and Clyde Gates converted another first down on second down. From the 47, Geno Smith and Gates could not hook up, but Gates appeared to injure his hand on the attempt. Cortez Allen had the coverage down the field to set up third and ten. The third down pass was behind the receiver with Troy Polamalu in coverage.
Sanders dodged a bullet on the Steelers’ first play after the punt, as he lost the ball going to the ground, but he recovered his own fumble after a two-yard gain. Roethlisberger kept it for two yards on second down. On third down, Roethlisberger completed to Miller, but he was just shy of the first down to force a punt with eight minutes left to play.
Geno Smtih found his tight end for 11 on first down after being forced out of bounds by Shamarko Thomas. From the 42, Stephen Hill could not hold on to an inaccurate screen pass. On second down, Willie Colon (now, of course, with the Jets) was flagged for holding, setting up second and 20 and back to the 32-yard line. Cameron Heyward got pressure on the play, forcing a throwaway into the turf. Ryan Clark should have come away with another interception on a poor pass on third and 20.
After the punt, Le’Veon Bell carried for five yards on first down, and two on second down. On third and three, Roethlisberger was sacked after beating Ramon Foster with five minutes left to play.
Ziggy Hood picked up a soft coverage sack on first down, the team’s third of the game. Hill picked up the first down a play later. Cortez Allen got stalemated on a blitz, and Jeff Cumberland spun away from Lawrence Timmons for the first down. Goodson then picked up 18, and Smith followed it up with another first down pass to quickly get down the field to the 12.
As with before, however, the defense tightened up, and Timmons came up with the Steelers’ second turnover of the year near the goal line, after Jarvis Jones got a hit on Smith. The rookie ended up throwing it right to Timmons, who returned it 23 yards to the 26-yard line.
The Steelers kept it on the ground once again, with Bell gaining eight yards on two carries. Jonathan Dwyer picked up the first down with a six-yard gain. After three more carries, the Steelers were forced to punt, but with just 30 seconds left to play.
The Jets received the ball after a downed punt with 18 seconds to play, down 13. A quick eight-yard pass wrapped of the proceedings as the clock expired on the Steelers’ first win of the year. Could this be the beginning of an unlikely turnaround?