January 15, 2005

Why Is This Man Smiling?

Maybe it's because the Pittsburgh Steelers did everything they could to give away the divisional playoff game to the New York Jets -- but in the end, the New York Jets could not take advantage when it counted. The Steelers beat the Jets, 20-17, in overtime:

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger overcame two huge mistakes an interception for a touchdown and another that appeared to doom the Steelers late in the fourth quarter to lead a decisive drive that began at the Jets 13 and sent Pittsburgh to next Sunday's AFC championship game against New England or Indianapolis.

The loss will go down as one of the most excruciating in the Jets' star-crossed history, with kicker Doug Brien missing not one but two makable field-goal tries in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter. The misses were doubly stunning disappointments for a gutty team on the verge of its biggest upset since Broadway Joe's guaranteed win over the Colts in the January 1969 Super Bowl.

Brien's 47-yarder with 1:58 remaining hit the goal post, but Roethlisberger gave the Jets the ball right back when his off-line throw was intercepted by David Barrett just the kind of mistake rookie quarterbacks are supposed to make in the playoffs, but Big Ben had rarely made during his 13-0 rookie season. The Jets then drove cautiously from the Steelers 37 to the 25, giving Brien a 43-yarder to win it on the final play of regulation.

But the kick sailed far to the left, not even close, and the given-a-reprieve Steelers danced joyously on their sidelines Roethlisberger right in the middle.

The Steelers gave us an escape worthy of Houdini in pulling this game out. They jumped out to an early 10-0 lead thanks to a Chad Pennington interception, but then stalled offensively until the fourth quarter. The Steelers defense never gave up a touchdown, but special teams and Big Ben Roethlisberger allowed one each.

Big Ben played like a rookie in his first playoff game (which he is), especially in the first half, where he only completed three passes and looked completely ineffective. Ironically, he played much better in the second half but gave up two key interceptions that nearly ended the Steelers' season. The first went back for a TD, and the second allowed the Jets to have a second chance in the final two minutes of the game to kick a game-winning field goal.

Incredibly, the Jets kicker missed both shots at winning, a bitter twist on their miracle finish last week against San Diego. Even though the Jets could not score an offensive touchdown, they appeared to have the momentum throughout the game. Only after Doug Brien's second whiff did the air go out of the Jets, who played their third straight overtime game.

Steeler fans will enjoy this win, but the Steelers will face either the Indianapolis Colts or New England Patriots next week at Heinz Field. They cannot hope to beat either team with the game they brought today. Hopefully, this game can be chalked up to rust (Big Ben hadn't played in three weeks) and the real Steelers offense will show up to match their tough defense.

NOTE: I should have explained the picture. Hugh Hewitt lost a bet with me, and the obligation was to wear my Pittsburgh Steelers hat for his interview with the Northern Alliance at our State Fair last summer (original link here).

Hugh's still a loyal Cleveland Browns fan, the one aspect of his philosophy where his towering intellect fails him. I think the answer to the title question above is that he came pretty darned close to getting his revenge this weekend. Either that, or he found out that Roethlisberger comes from Ohio.

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