By Brad Carroll
The New York Jets finally gave their fans something to cheer about Sunday, beating the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-13 in the most complete game of the season. For once, everything went right for the Jets, as they had a tremendous offensive performance backed up by a defensive effort that created four turnovers and stood tall against the hottest quarterback in football.
If only the Jets could have played this well the entire season, then maybe we'd all be talking about how this victory solidified the team's playoff chances, and not just a singular happy moment in a season full of disappointment. But this was a much-needed victory for a team desperately seeking one.
Everybody associated with the Jets, from the front office to the coaching staff to the players to the fans, has to have a big smile on their face after this victory. It makes for a very positive installment of our Game Balls and Game Falls feature, the first since Week 1. Read our take on the Jets victory, which included many "what-if" questions, but a lot of happiness here.
Jaiquawn Jarrett: He had the game of his life, intercepting two passes, recovering a fumble, recording a sack and adding 10 tackles. That's a great month for an NFL safety, let alone one game. Jarrett's fumble recovery, off a force by Mo Wilkerson, set up the Jets' second touchdown in the first quarter. His first interception came off a batted pass by Marcus Williams with the Steelers going for a touchdown at the Jets' 2. His second pick came on the opening drive of the third quarter, when the Steelers were driving again and trailing by just 14. Jarrett made coach Rex Ryan look like a genius for starting him over first-round pick Calvin Pryor, who was rightfully benched. With the way Jarrett played, the decision could have paid dividends a lot sooner. Jarrett's three takeaways equaled the entire team's total from the first nine games.
Michael Vick: If only he was named the starting quarterback a lot earlier, maybe this victory would have people talking playoffs instead of breaking a long losing streak. Vick completed 10-of-18 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest play of the game came on a play the Jets haven't seen in a long time, a 67-yard touchdown bomb to T.J. Graham, with the ball traveling 50 yards in the air. It was a momentum builder, giving the Jets a 10-0 lead in the first quarter. Vick added another touchdown pass to Jace Amaro after a Pittsburgh turnover, going up 17-0 after the first quarter. Vick also rushed for 39 yards to eclipse the 6,000-yard mark in his career, the first quarterback to accomplish that feat in NFL history. If only the Jets made the switch sooner.
Percy Harvin: His numbers weren't overly impressive, as he caught three passes for 23 yards and rushed six times for 33 yards, but Harvin gives the Jets a playmaker opposing defenses must account for. He's easily the most explosive player the Jets have and it's easy to see watching him with the ball.
Defensive Secondary: In addition to Jarrett's exploits, this was a big game for the entire secondary, not including the 80-yard touchdown pass by Roesthlisberger with just over a minute to play in the game. Unheralded cornerbacks Marcus Williams and Philip Adams had the best games of their careers, holding the vaunted Steelers passing game in check. Antonio Brown, the league's leading receiver coming into the game, was held to eight catches for 74 yards, a 9.3-yard per catch average. Williams had the tip that led to Jarrett's interception on the Jets' 2, a huge turning point in the game. Both corners had four tackles and Williams added two passes defended. Dawan Landry was solid as well at safety, with six tackles and a quarterback hit. The much-maligned secondary actually became a strength against the Steelers.
Defensive Line: It's impossible not to highlight the Jets' secondary and defensive line as a group with Game Balls for all. The Jets defensive front held the Steelers to just 36 yards on 17 carries, the second lowest total in the Ryan era. Pittsburgh had the ball inside the Jets' five-yard line on two separate occasions and didn't score a touchdown either time, coming away with just three points. Wilkerson had four tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage that forced a fumble. Sheldon Richardson had four tackles, including one for a loss, and Leger Douzable had a sack.
Calvin Pryor: The rookie from Louisville was benched and didn't play on defense in the game, which has been a long time coming for the player who's bark is much bigger than his bite. Pryor hasn't had an impact at all this season, but his replacement Sunday, Jarrett, had three takeaways and a sack. It would benefit the Jets greatly if Pryor learns from his benching and works on bettering his game, as they can't afford to miss on another draft pick. But the early returns aren't good for Pryor.
Jeremy Kerley: He's become an afterthought in the Jets offense, getting targeted just once and not recording a single reception. Kerley has just seven receptions in the last five games. He's a better player than those stats indicate.
Nick Folk: He's human after all, missing a 45-yard field goal that would have given the Jets a 20-0 lead with under two minutes to play in the first half. The Jets failed to capitalize on a fumble recovery off a punt return at the Steelers' 28 with that miss. Folk did make two field goals in the game.