So much for Todd Haley cramping Ben Roethlisberger’s style.
Showing complete mastery of his new offensive coordinator’s complex playbook, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback picked apart the New York Jets in a 27-10 on Sunday that doubled as a reality check for both teams.
Hold off on the talk about New York’s high-powered offense. Ditto the maybe not so creaky after all Steelers.
Roethlisberger completed 24 of 31 passes for 275 yards and two scores as Pittsburgh (1-1) flattened the Jets (1-1) in the second half.
”Ben is one of the top in the game,” said Pittsburgh wide receiver Mike Wallace, whose leaping 37-yard touchdown grab in the third quarter broke it open. ”I’ll ride with him against anybody.”
Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a 1-yard score to give the Steelers (1-1) the lead late in the first half, then avoided the blitz on third-and-16 early in the third quarter and found Wallace in the end zone. The Pro Bowl wide receiver let New York cornerback Antonio Cromartie fly by then snatched the ball out of the air before tucking both feet in bounds.
”That was a backbreaker obviously,” New York coach Rex Ryan said. ”That was a killer play in the game.”
Isaac Redman added a late 2-yard touchdown run for Pittsburgh, which had little trouble avoiding its first 0-2 start in a decade.
The Jets did nothing offensively after a pair of early scoring drives. Mark Sanchez completed just 10 of 27 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown and New York hardly looked like the offensive juggernaut that piled up points in a 48-28 opening-week blowout win over Buffalo.
Tim Tebow appeared on just one drive early in the second half for the Jets, running for 22 yards on his first carry. It wasn’t nearly enough against a defense that did just fine without injured stars James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.
”We settled down,” Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor said. ”I think everybody was hyped for this game. Looking at what them boys did last week, they handled their business on offense.”
The sledding got significantly tougher in a place the Jets have only won once in franchise history.
Sanchez completed just 6 of 17 passes in the second half, two of them in a stat-padding final drive with things well out of reach. The Jets only converted 4 of 12 third downs and didn’t take a snap inside the Pittsburgh 30 on their final eight drives.
”I think us not converting on third down was a big hit today,” Sanchez said. ”We weren’t our best. The throws weren’t there at times. The catches weren’t there at times, so we just need to be on the same page with that. It was a great effort by their team; we just came up short.”
Then again, it’s not like the Jets had a ton of opportunities the way the Steelers owned the clock.
With Roethlisberger spreading his 24 completions to 10 different receivers against a New York secondary that badly missed injured All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis, the Steelers held the ball for more than 36 minutes. Not bad for an offense led by a quarterback who said during the spring that Haley’s system was akin to learning a new language.
Two weeks into the season, consider Roethlisberger fluent.
”Nobody can get too upset because everybody is touching the ball,” Wallace said. ”You’re not just getting opportunities to go catch it, (the passes are) coming right on the money.”
Trailing by 10 after Wallace’s score, the Jets went to Tebow, who engineered a 29-23 upset win by the Denver Broncos over the Steelers in the playoffs last January. He needed just two plays to put the Jets in Pittsburgh territory, but the drive quickly stalled.
After a 6-yard loss by Shonn Greene, Sanchez ran back into the huddle. Two incompletions later, the Jets were punting and didn’t take another meaningful snap in Pittsburgh territory the rest of the game.
”We can’t get negative plays, it always hurts when you do,” Tebow said. ”I felt like we had things rolling for a little … but it’s a game of momentum. When you lose it, it’s hard to get it back”
And there was little to be had for the Jets in the second half. Playing with a sense of urgency they lacked in an opening week loss to the Broncos, the Steelers put New York away with a bruising fourth-quarter drive that took more than 10 minutes and ended with Redman sprinting over right tackle for a score.
The one-sided ending was far different than a mostly even first half.
A meeting of two of the league’s better defenses lacked considerable star power due to injuries. Pittsburgh sat Harrison (right knee) and Polamalu (strained right calf) while Revis didn’t make the trip due to a concussion sustained last week.
With the three perennial Pro Bowlers sidelined, the offenses took advantage, trading a series of sustained scoring drives.
The Jets took leads of 7-3 and 10-6 behind steady play from Sanchez. He hit Santonio Holmes for a 14-yard touchdown pass to cap a 90-yard drive then put together a 12-play, 61-yard march that was capped by Nick Folk’s 38-yard field goal.
The Steelers climbed back in front late in the half, with Roethlisberger leading them 80 yards in 11 plays, the last one a simple lob to Miller that put the Steelers up 13-10.
New York took over at its 31 after the ensuing kickoff with 57 seconds left before the break. Even though the Jets had two timeouts remaining and decent field position, they chose to sit on the ball.
It would be a scene they would repeat – only unintentionally – in the second half.
NOTES: The Steelers have won 10 straight home openers, the longest active streak in the league … Greene left in the second quarter with a head injury but returned after halftime. He finished with 11 carries for 23 yards … New York fullback John Conner went out with a knee injury in the third quarter and did not return … Roethlisberger now has 27,099 career passing yards, moving him within 900 yards of the team record of 27,898 held by Terry Bradshaw … Roethlisberger’s passer rating of 125.1 is the highest given up by New York under Ryan.