On the brink of setting a franchise record for consecutive losses, it’s tough to imagine things could get any worse for embattled coach Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.
That’s until realizing the red-hot Ben Roethlisberger is coming to town.
The Jets look to avoid a ninth straight defeat by holding Roethlisberger in check and dealing the Pittsburgh Steelers their first loss in four games Sunday.
New York hasn’t won since beating Oakland – now 0-8 – in its season opener, leading to speculation that Ryan and general manager John Idzik could be on their way out. A plane flew overhead of Wednesday’s practice, one that owner Woody Johnson attended, with a banner calling for Idzik’s firing.
”Our fans, I recognize their frustrations,” Ryan said, ”and it’s probably not easy to be a Jets fan right now.”
The Jets fell 24-10 to Kansas City last week and have lost eight straight for the first time since 1996, when they finished 1-15. Ryan is trying to downplay his own situation while simultaneously attempting to help New York turn its season around.
”I don’t look past Pittsburgh,” Ryan said. ”I know my opportunity is to be a head coach right now and I’m going to do the best job I possibly can do for this football team, and to give us a chance to be successful.
”The results aren’t there yet, and that’s not acceptable to anybody’s standard, certainly not mine. We have a lot of season left and I think our football team is going to play a lot better.”
This week may be the Jets’ toughest challenge yet. Roethlisberger became the first quarterback to throw 12 touchdown passes in a two-game stretch with six each in a 51-34 win over Indianapolis on Oct. 26 and a 43-23 victory over Baltimore last week.
His 68.3 completion percentage is second-best in the NFL and his 22 TD passes are tied for third, all while throwing just three interceptions – none during the three-game winning streak.
Roethlisberger went 23 of 30 for 264 yards and a touchdown in last season’s 19-6 win over the Jets.
"He’s as hot as I’ve ever seen him," Ryan said. "It’s the same nightmare. He can make all the throws and hangs in there. He’s really using (running back Le’Veon) Bell out of the backfield a bunch, and that’s a big help. Antonio Brown has been lighting it up, as well."
Brown has caught three touchdowns over the last two weeks and finished with a season-high 144 yards against the Ravens as Pittsburgh improved to 6-3. His 103 targets, 71 receptions and 996 yards lead the league, and he’s tied for third with eight TD catches.
"It’s just fun to see the success that he’s had because he’s not your prototypical No. 1, 6-foot-4 receiver," Roethlisberger said. "He’s a guy that plays with a lot of heart and a lot of passion and I think it shows."
Roethlisberger largely has been deflecting the credit for his record-setting two weeks while trying to keep the focus on team goals.
"I’m just trying to win football games," Roethlisberger said. "Wins and losses mean more to me than any individual stats."
He’ll face a Jets unit that ranks sixth with 319.4 yards allowed per game. New York, though, has given up a league-worst 24 touchdown passes and has an NFL-low one interception.
"They’re a lot better football team than their record looks and their defense is very good," Roethlisberger said. "Last week is over. The week before last week is over. We’re facing a good defense at their place and so we need to come out and play our best football."
The Jets are hoping Michael Vick can build on a solid effort as he makes his second consecutive start in place of Geno Smith. Vick finished 21 of 28 for 196 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs.
He left briefly after banging his head against the turf but said he’ll be ready to go this week.
”To be able to go out there and play efficiently is great for me," Vick said. "I still didn’t play up to my standards because we didn’t score as much as I knew we could have scored. But I believe in myself and I believe in what I can do.”
Vick will have to deal with a rejuvenated James Harrison. The 36-year-old linebacker came out of retirement to help the Steelers’ injury-depleted defense and has two sacks in back-to-back games for the first time since 2009.
”(Harrison) is not old. He’s the strongest person in the league," defensive back William Gay said. "I’ll put any type of money on that.”
Pittsburgh will be without safety Troy Polamalu after he suffered a sprained right knee last week. Linebacker Ryan Shazier also will sit out with a sprained right ankle.