Published: Sunday, January 23, 2011, 11:24 PM Â Â Â Updated: Monday, January 24, 2011, 1:54 AM
Drew van Esselstyn/The Star-Ledger
John O’Boyle / The Star-Ledger
Pittsburgh Steelers host New York Jets in AFC Championship game at Heinz Field on Jan. 23, 2011 gallery (77 photos)
During the week leading up to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game, we detailed a handful of critical matchups, telling you how the chess match between the Jets and Steelers would unfold. A look back at those particular keys, and what actually happened:
In the game’s deciding moment â€” and a host of other plays â€” this was the Jets’ undoing. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was exactly the mobile threat the Jets knew he would be. He scrambled for first downs. He turned pressure that brought sacks of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady into positive plays. And in the end, the Steelers put the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands, had him roll to the right and trusted him to find a receiver for the game-sealing first down, which he did.
The Jets can claim a small victory thanks to Brodney Pool’s interception near the goal line after Roethlisberger rolled away from pressure and had a wide-open receiver running toward the end zone. A poor pass â€” Roethlisberger threw to the inside rather than toward the corner â€” allowed Pool to make the play.
Steelers WR Mike Wallace, and specifically his downfield speed, was a concern for the Jets â€” even though they have the best cover corner in the league in Darrelle Revis and another very good one in Antonio Cromartie. The Jets put the brakes on this matchup. Wallace only got open enough for Roethlisberger to look for him three times, and the two hooked up only once for 6 yards.
That’s not to say Wallace didn’t have a chance. He ran past Revis in the first half and would have scored had the pass not hung up in the air. As it was, Revis was able to recover, track the ball and break up the pass. In fact, it should have been an interception. Still, job well done by the Jets secondary.
ATTACKING THE MIDDLE
This was originally billed as a battle between Steelers rookie center Maurkice Pouncey and longtime Jets DL Shaun Ellis. However, Pouncey left early in the game with a serious ankle injury. Even with backup Doug Legursky in, however, the Steelers’ running game didn’t miss a beat in the first half. Many of Rashard Mendenhall’s yards came up the middle, and even the short gainers went for 2-3 extra yards as Legursky and the rest of the line pushed forward.
Still, you knew at some point that Legursky would be a liability. And after the Steelers turned away LaDainian Tomlinson on fourth-and-goal, Legursky and Roethlisberger mishandled the snap â€” and the Jets had their second safety of the season against the Steelers.
IN A RUSH
It’s never fun to deal with LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison, and wasn’t again last night. Woodley picked up a sack of Mark Sanchez â€” his 10th takedown of a quarterback in six career postseason games. Harrison didn’t get to Sanchez, but he was amazingly active on every down, crashing down the offensive line on running plays and really jamming up the middle of the line â€” where the Jets have had so much success running the ball.
Moreover, the attention paid to Woodley and Harrison freed former Jets first-round draft pick James Farrior (eight tackles) and the very underrated Lawrence Timmons (10 tackles, one pass defensed) to excel. No doubt, the Steelers’ defense is driven by its linebackers. That was never more apparent than yesterday.
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