I've read a lot of reactions to this game noting how it felt very much like the home win over the Packers last year. I get that in that the the ending was pretty similar, save for the critical and lamentable difference in outcome this time around. No Mike Wallace heroics as time expired this time around, regrettably.
But I was reminded more of the two home wins against San Diego in 2008. I guess it was both the snowy setting and the mostly improved performance by the offensive line and Bruce Arians that sparked the connection for me. In both those games against the Chargers, the Steelers moved the ball seemingly at will with remarkably good protection for Roethlisberger. Of course, both Arians and the line fucked up royally on the Mewelde Moore shotgun draw that went for a safety, but it's a little unfair to dismiss what was mostly a better than usual showing by the playcalling and blocking based on one bad play. Though the Steelers lost, there's some encouragement to take away from that.
Obviously, what also doomed the Steelers was the opening kickoff that went for a touchdown that didn't require Brad Smith to do much but run in a straight line for the end zone. If there's anything that's going to remind Steelers fans of last season, it's poor kick coverage and a defense that struggles to get turnovers when Polamalu isn't playing. The pass rush only managed one sack. They would have had more, but Sanchez escaped their grasp on a few occasions. Nevertheless, they got pressure but pressure was about it. The inability to bring down the QB let the Jets extend some scoring drives.
Sanchez played a decent, if unspectacular, game. He made one nice deep throw to Braylon Edwards and the Jets made a smart fake on his naked bootleg to give the Jets their only offensive TD of the game. Still, I would not be at all worried to face him again, especially if Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith are playing. The Jets ran slightly better than I would have liked, but the same obviously went for the Steelers as well. After a few mediocre weeks, Mendy had a great game, posting 100 yards on only 17 carries against one of the best run defenses in the NFL.
It was frustrating to see how much contact Antonio Cromartie and Dwight Lowery got away with in coverage on Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. The Steelers got the benefit of a few bad spots when they had the ball, so I'm not gonna cry about the officiating, but if corners are going to allowed to yank on Wallace's jersey at will while he's blowing by them, then that obviously neutralizes a huge big play potential for the Steelers. The non-call on Lowery at the end of the last drive was pretty bad, but, again, you have to play well enough for the refs not to make a difference and the Steelers didn't. Just hope that isn't the case in the coming weeks.
It would have been very nice to get the win, not only to show the Steelers can beat good teams even when they're missing key contributors, but we know that to be true even coming up a hair short. Even though I thought Matt Spaeth and Ryan Mundy did all right in relief of Heath and Troy, they weren't able to be significant difference makers, either. As I said in the preview, it wasn't all that significant a blow to the standings and I'm not all that broken up about it. Miller is expected to return Thursday against the Panthers. Any self-respecting playoff team should make short work of them, Polamalu or not. While the Browns won't be a cakewalk in a game that will decide whether the Steelers are a 2 seed or a Wild Card team in Week 17, Pittsburgh will at least have almost a week and a half to prepare for them.
Coming into this week, panic was rife about the performance of the offense. Only putting up 17 points can't make you giddy, but they played well, moved the ball at ease and maybe were one 10-yard completion away from putting up 24 and a win on one of the league's tougher defenses. The Steelers defense looked a little off against a Jets offense famously struggling coming in. The performance was solid, but not stifling, which it needed to be and would likely be if the teams played again. You never want to call a loss encouraging, but this one wasn't devastating by any means either. A bad call on the goal line and bad kick coverage early cost the Steelers a game that might not have been close if they had the safety who's been an absolute force the last month.