If the Steelers want to guarantee that they keep themselves ahead of the pack, then they need to beat the New York Jets today. And with today’s game, they have all hands on deck, though every knee might not be at full capacity.
JuJu Smith-Schuster is officially making his return after missing the past four games due to a knee injury, but from pre-game reports, it certainly doesn’t sound as though he is at 100 percent. How much he actually ends up playing will largely come down to pain tolerance. But he is active.
The Newly-promoted WR Amara Darboh is among the team’s inactives, as is S Marcus Allen, also promoted with Kameron Kelly being released following his arrest. The additional inactives are QB Paxton Lynch, OL Chukwuma Okorafor, TE Zach Gentry, OLB Tuzar Skipper, and CB Artie Burns.
LeVeon Bell picked up 7 yards receiving and then 7 on the ground to begin the game’s opening possession. After an eight-yard pass, Bell got the ball again on third down on a reception, but Devin Bush forced him out of bound for a loss. A downfield incompletion was flagged for defensive pass interference against Minkah Fitzpatrick, which I believe is his first of the season.
Now at the Steelers’ 40, Sam Darnold pitched the ball awkwardly for a loss of three. Bell was able to spin ahead for about eight. They stayed on the ground on third and six, Bell coming up just short. He got it on fourth down, however.
At Pittsburgh’s 24, Mike Hilton was quick on the tackle of Ty Montgomery for one yard. Darnold threw incomplete over the middle with Bush in coverage. Now third and nine, Darnold was able to find Robby Anderson for an exceptional touchdown catch right between Joe Haden and Terrell Edmunds, using all of his 6’3″ frame to elevate down the seam for the 23-yard score, the Jets now up 7-0 with four and a half minutes gone.
Conner lost a yard on the Steelers’ first carry, then got six. Devlin Hodges found Diontae Johnson for nine and the first down, however. Following a five-yard out to Vance McDonald, Conner broke one for 15.
At the Jets, 45, Benny Snell got his first carry, losing one. Conner got the one back on second down, but then Hodges on his second pass attempt was picked off looking for McDonald by Terrell Basham, dropping late into coverage. The rookie never saw him.
Darnold nearly gave it right back on a long bomb, Haden with the shot, but the receiver bringing him down was able to dislodge the ball. Still, the Jets were ultimately forced into a three-and-out with good pressure on third and seven.
The Steelers responded with a three-and-out of their own, Hodges taken down for a five-yard loss on second down. On third and 14, they executed a screen to McDonald for about nine, and had to punt, which the Jets did well to return for good starting field position.
After eight on first down, Anderson dropped the second-down pass. Montgomery got the inside handoff for seven across midfield. T.J. Watt immediately tackled Montgomery for no gain on the next play. Jamison Crowder got about eight on second down to end the first quarter. On third and two, the defense was able to stuff Bell, who got maybe a yard at most. The Jets this time elected to attempt a 54-yard field goal. Sam Ficken was good, giving New York a 10-0 lead 16 minutes into the game.
Hodges had Nick Vannett wide open, who was able to shoulder past the first defender for 18 yards. At the 43, Conner got to the perimeter for about 12. That’s 30 yards in two plays. Now on the Jets’ 45, , however, he was stopped for a short loss. He checked out and looked to be grimacing on the sideline. He lowered the shoulder on contact on that play. Second and 11, James Washington caught a five-yard plass, tackled awkwardly on a horse-collar takedown with the defender falling on his left ankle. He came off the field very gingerly and immediately to the training table. Big loss.
With the penalty, now at the 26, A short screen to Deon Cain, who only had room for about four yards. Another quick play-action pass to Johnson for a short gain. Now third and three, Hodges threw an interception to Marcus Maye in the end zone, that play taking three points off the board. Now with six interceptions in his past six quarters, don’t be surprised to see Mason Rudolph back on the field for the first time since the opening drive of the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals.
The defense was fortunately able to respond, forcing a three-and-out, helped in part by an errant long ball on third and seven. And Rudolph checked into the game. After a two-yard loss by Snell, Rudolph threw a bit behind Johnson for an incompletion. Conner is on the exercise bike on the sideline. On third and 12, Rudolph made a big throw under duress to Washington, who is obviously back in the game, for the crucial third-down conversion.
Checking down short to Johnson for four, the Steelers were saved by a false start on a bad snap by Pouncey. McDonald dropped the pass, bobbling it and it nearly intercepted. Rudolph settled for a scramble on third down for five yards. A rough punt by Berry only went to about the Jets’ 40. Conner meanwhile heads to the locker room.
Bell was thrown for a loss of 11 on second down. Now third and 18, a check to Bell picked up a chunk but still well short of the first. Johnson had a good punt return out to the 40, but a hold on the return brought it back. Kerrith Whyte picked up four yards on first down. Rudolph to Washington again for a 13-yard connection and a first down.
Now at the 31, it was Whyte again, who looked initially like he might have some room, but was stuffed after two yards. Rudolph completed to Johnson for nine and another first down. Now at the 31, basically where Johnson got on the original punt return.
Rudolph had to get the ball out to Jaylen Samuels, who was spun around and upside down after just a one-yard gain inside of the two-minute warning. This one a screen to Samuels, who found an angle for 27 yards. Good blocking on the play.
Down to the Jets’ 30, it was off of Smith-Schuster for an incompletion. Rudolph was sacked for a big loss, knocking them out of field goal range. He didn’t have much of a chance unless he got the ball out in a hurry. Now third and 19 at the 39, He just found Washington for eight to get back to the 31. Chris Boswell from 49 was able to get the Steelers on the board, now 10-3.
After a hold on the kick return, the Jets started deep in their own end. To the 34 on second down for a conversion with 44 seconds. Crowder was left wide open for 15 near midfield as the Jets used their first timeout. You can’t leave that so easy, not with three timeouts. But then a critical development: Watt. A strip sack, which he recovered himself. 14 sacks, 7 forced fumbles.
Now the offense back on the field at the 41. On the draw for six for Samuels. The Steelers used their final timeout. Samuels had to run horizontally for just one yard so that he could get out of bounds. Otherwise he could have easily gotten the first. Now third and three at the 34, Rudolph took a shot into the end zone, incomplete, but Washington was able to draw an illegal contact penalty. Pre-throw penalty, five yards.
Nine seconds remaining with no timeouts, so one shot at a play here. At the 29, the Jets somehow allow Johnson behind him, Rudolph hitting him perfectly for the touchdown. You don’t execute any better than that. Seven points off of the turnover, and it’s suddenly 10-10 with four seconds left, and the Steelers get the ball to start the third quarter.