Steelers Report Card: AFC Championship
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Good thing Ben Roethlisberger orchestrated an offense that outgained the Jets, 231 to 50 in total yards, and had more first downs, 16-5, in the first half. Because the rest of it wasn't pretty, starting with two interceptions and a safety off a fumbled snap in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger had 96 yards passing in the first half, only 37 in the second half, but he had two big completions to run out the clock.
RUNNING BACKS A+
Rashard Mendenhall was one of the stars in the first half when the Steelers built a 24-0 halftime lead. He rushed for 95 yards on 17 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown, and caught two passes for 35 yards before halftime. He finished with a playoff-high 121 yards on 27 carries, the longest a 35-yarder to set up a field goal. Isaac Redman added 27 yards on four carries in the first half.
WIDE RECEIVERS C
The Jets locked down on WRs Hines Ward and Mike Wallace, holding them to a combined three catches. Ward never had another catch after the first half and Wallace had just one for 5 yards. TE Heath Miller had two big catches -- a 24-yarder that led to the second touchdown and a 14-yarder in the final 2 1/2 minutes. Antonio Brown's only catch was huge -- a 14-yarder to run out the clock.
OFFENSIVE LINE B-
The unit lost C Maurkice Pouncey (left ankle) in the first quarter. The Steelers rushed for 135 of their 166 yards in the first half and Roethlisberger wasn't sacked until late in the third quarter. Doug Legursky, who replaced Pouncey, had two fumbled snaps, including one for a safety in the fourth. The plan was to use a lot of counter plays and hit runs to the outside, and it worked most of the game.
DEFENSIVE LINE B
A big goal-line stand on four plays from the Steelers' 2 was the deciding moment in the second half, even though the Jets were starting to gouge them with the run. They held the Jets to just 1 yard rushing on five carries in the first half, but the Jets had 69 yards rushing after halftime. DE Brett Keisel and NT Casey Hampton batted passes at the line of scrimmage to further disrupt the Jets passing game.
OLB LaMarr Woodley was a beast all game, registering one of the two sacks in the first half, continually collapsing the pocket on QB Mark Sanchez and making several big plays on the goal-line stand. The Jets, though, kept them off balance and guessing in the second half, getting 239 yards and 12 first downs after halftime. Shonn Green had seven carries for 48 yards in the second half.
DEFENSIVE BACKS B-
Ike Taylor made the big play in the second quarter when his sack strip on QB Mark Sanchez resulted in William Gay's 19-yard scoring return. But he got beat on Santonio Holmes 45-yard TD. Gay replaced injured CB Bryant McFadden in the base defense and was nothing short of superb. Sanchez completed just 7 of 15 passes for 63 yards in the first half, but he was 13 of 18 for 170 yards in the second.
SPECIAL TEAMS A
Give the Steelers credit for squibbing every kickoff and making Brad Smith a non-factor, unlike the first meeting when he returned the opening kick 97 yards for a TD. The Jets had just 41 yards on five kickoff returns. Also, when they needed a spark, Antonio Brown provided it with a 27-yard return when the Steelers were expecting an onside kick. That gave them the ball at their 41 and allowed them to run out the clock.
The Steelers were prepared for just about everything the Jets tried offensively, especially in the first half. And, just when it seemed like they had no answer for the Jets in the second half, the defense came up with a big goal-line stand. This is the second Super Bowl appearance in three years for Tomlin, and his handling of the team through the off-field adversity, injuries and NFL fines was nothing short of sensational.
First Published January 24, 2011 12:00 am