New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson sacks Steelers quarterback Ben Rothlisberger in the first quarter.
Peter Diana /Post-Gazette
Jets linebacker Calvin Pace stops Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell for no gain in the first quarter.
Emmanuel Sanders eyes the end zone after a catch and run from Ben Roethlisberger in the third quarter against the Jets at MetLife Stadium.
Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown celebrates a touchdown catch by Emmanuel Sanders in the third quarter against the Jets.
Steelers center Fernando Velasco kneels in prayer next to the goal post before the game against the Jets.
Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders does a flip into the end zone in the third quarter against the Jets.
By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- They did not break out the champagne, and the Steelers did not whoop it up after their 19-6 victory against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium. They acted like they had been there before, even if they had no such previous experience in 2013.
What a victory against their longtime cousins -- they now are 19-4 vs. the Jets (3-3) -- might mean in the long run after opening with four losses will be left for the long run. What it means to them now is a sense of relief and determination to keep it up.
"Hopefully," coach Mike Tomlin said, "this is a springboard of things to come."
The Steelers had not lost their first four games in 45 years, have not had a losing season in 10, had not been out of the playoff run in quite some time. So the sense of shock at 0-4 gave way to something else Sunday.
"It feels right," Heath Miller said. "It's far from perfect, but I'm happy with the win."
They accomplished that the old-fashioned Steelers way by stopping the run, protecting the football and -- hold onto your hats -- sacking the quarterback and producing two key turnovers that prevented Jets scores. They were the first forced turnovers of the season, thus preventing them the ignominy of becoming the only team in NFL history without getting a turnover through their first five games.
"Big splash plays defensively, maintained possession of the ball offensively," is how Tomlin put it, his team committing no turnovers for the first time this season. "There are plays and then there are significant plays ... [Sunday] we made the splash plays and that is why we were able to win."
Safety Ryan Clark broke the seal when he intercepted Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith at the Steelers 2 in the third quarter, preserving a 16-6 lead, the first lead they have held in the second half this season.
Linebacker Lawrence Timmons ended any further drama when he picked off a floater by Smith at the Steelers 3, forced when Jarvis Jones slammed into Smith with his arm in motion. That came with three minutes left in the ballgame, making it a wrap.
Ben Roethlisberger and his offense took care of the rest. Shaun Suisham wiped out a 3-0 Jets first-quarter lead with three field goals in the third quarter, and added a fourth in the fourth.
While they were happy that Suisham was again perfect -- he is 10 for 10 this season -- they figured a touchdown would be nice.
"As good as that defense is," Roethlisberger said of the Jets defense, ranked second in the NFL, "we have to score touchdowns. We can't be relying on Suisham to get us 3 even though we know he will get us 3."
The touchdown came in the third quarter of a 9-6 game. Roethlisberger had just handed off to Le'Veon Bell twice for 9 yards and then said Todd Haley's next play call was perfect.
So, too, was the execution. Roethlisberger faked a handoff to Bell from a run formation. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders raced down the right side, past Pro Bowl cornerback Antonio Cromartie and caught the deep pass well behind him at the Jets 22. The rest was easy as Sanders completed a 55-yard touchdown catch, his first of the season.
"We had a good, hard play-action," Roethlisberger said. "Le'Veon sold it well and the line sold it well. I looked up and saw Emmanuel running by himself and I kind of hesitated for a moment because I couldn't believe he was so open."
Said Sanders, "I knew I was wide open and the rest is history."
So, too, is the winless mark. But their four losses still count and it's a crater they still find themselves in. The most recent team to make the playoffs from an 0-4 start was San Diego in 1992. But that's not what's on the Steelers' minds today.
"It wasn't the start we wanted," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "But the men in this locker room believe that there's a chance that something great can come out of this if we all work toward it."
They got better play from their new left tackle, Kelvin Beachum, who did not give up one of the three sacks of Roethlisberger but who was unhappy with three penalties against him.
Roethlisberger was more efficient. He completed 23 of 30 attempts for 264 yards, no interceptions for the first time this season and a 113.8 passer rating. He also decided not to tone it down and shook off rampaging defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson for what would have been a safety on the team's second series long enough to throw the ball away. Later, he scrambled once for 10 yards and a first down at the Jets 2.
"He was great," said wideout Antonio Brown, who added nine receptions for 86 yards, both team highs. "He saved us a safety, was being mobile in the pocket, shedding defenders like he always does. He was being Ben."
The Steelers found it tough going in the first half against the Jets -- 12 yards on nine carries -- but produced 61 yards in the second half. And those two carries by Bell set up their one touchdown perfectly in the third quarter.
The Jets managed only 83 yards rushing, the first time this season the Steelers held their opponent under 100. Smith became the 16th rookie quarterback victim to a Dick LeBeau defense (vs. just two losses). LaMarr Woodley, Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds combined to sack him three times after the team had collected only four in their first four games.
It was like old times for the Steelers, on the field and back in their locker room afterward.
"Congratulations, good win," Roethlisberger described the team's attitude. "Let's go home, enjoy for a little bit and then get back to work."
They still have a lot of that to do, but at least that arrow their coach talks often about points in a different direction this week.