PITTSBURGH PA - JANUARY 23: Pittsburgh Steelers fans cheer during their 2011 AFC Championship game against the New York Jets at Heinz Field on January 23 2011 in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh Earns Super Bowl XLV Berth

For more on the Steelers, check out Behind The Steel Curtain.

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AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh Earns Super Bowl XLV Berth Against Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers

I don't know if you heard, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are going to Super Bowl XLV. They beat the New York Jets 24-19, thanks to a dominant rushing attack and suffocating defense. Make sure to check back throughout the week as we preview Super Bowl XLV, a matchup between the Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. Here are my observations from the fourth quarter. Be sure to check out my firstsecond and third quarter notes, too.

  • Shonn Greene, who I think has one of the best nicknames in sports ("War Machine"), for all his problems this season, is going to be a hell of a back once he learns to a) pass protect, b) catch the ball, c) not fumble. Seriously, when he has the ball in the open field, he is a monstrous straight-line runner. Fantasy football owners, here's a bargain for you to target in next year's drafts. Greene (5.8 yards per carry) was far more effective than LaDainian Tomlinson (1.8), whose workload should diminish in the future if Greene can progress. All of Greene's efforts during the Jets' first drive of the fourth quarter were for naught, though, as the Steelers held tough at the goal line, keeping Tomlinson out of the end zone on Fourth and Short. 
  • With less than eight minutes remaining, Pittsburgh was happy to protect a 14-point lead on their own 1-yard line. Unfortunately, Doug Legursky and Ben Roethlisberger botched the center-quarterback exchange for the second time of the evening, resulting in a Jets safety as the quarterback scrambled to maintain possession. Hopefully starter Maurkice Pouncey can recover from whatever's ailing him during the long bye, because it's tough to win when literally any offensive snap could result in a fumble, especially against an aggressive defense like the Pack.
  • Jerricho Cotchery caught a Mark Sanchez touchdown pass shortly thereafter, bringing the score to 24-19, Steelers. Pittsburgh ran man coverage a few yards outside of their end zone, and the defensive backs got caught on one another, leading to an easy Jets score in the flats. Fortunately, a nice return by Antonio Brown set the Steelers up on their own 41. After a New York timeout, on Second and 8, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called a pass (!) and Heath Miller turned it into a first down. I love the call. It's aggressive, it's unconventional - it's the Steelers going for the win, instead of going for the friendliest, most defensible loss. Arians, while he has plenty detractors has called brilliant, aggressive games for two weeks in a row now. Let's hope he keeps it up in the big one. 
  • Speaking of which, I love, love, love the call on Third and 6, too. Instead of running the ball and likely not converting, Arians put Roethlisberger in the shotgun - with no running back. Here's why this is brilliant. You tell your quarterback to only pull the trigger if his receiver is 100% open; otherwise, he can take a sack or scramble for a few positive yards. Either way, it doesn't change field position much and the clock still runs. On other hand, if you convert through the air there, you win, period - the Jets offense doesn't even get a shot. That's exactly what happened, as Roethlisberger hit Brown for 14 yards, sealing another Super Bowl appearance for Pittsburgh.
  • I'm already pumped for the Super Bowl, but I have to say that these next couple weeks are excruciating, especially when it's your team with a championship at stake and you just want to see them play. I find it impossible to care about the Pro Bowl, and the week before the Super Bowl is just overwhelming in its needless dissection of every last passing comment made by every last depth player. That said, we'll continue to bring you thoughtful, meaningful news as we preview Steelers-Packers in Super Bowl XLV. Check back early and often.
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AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: New York Puts Up A Fight In The Third Quarter, Pittsburgh Trying To Secure Super Bowl Berth

Be sure to check out my first and second quarter notes, too.

  • I really love when receivers - and it's always receivers - get up and posture after a first down in a game when their team is down by a million. What are you bragging about, exactly? Look at the scoreboard. That's what ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes did after a 16-yard gain, and the Pittsburgh crowd let him have it with the boos. One play afterwards, however, Holmes did something truly brag-worthy, hauling in a 45-yard score. Cornerback Ike Taylor slipped in man coverage, and Troy Polamalu was up in the box in run support, so Holmes tore down the field and was a good five or seven yards ahead of safety Ryan Clark, who was the only man back. The touchdown narrowed the score to 24-10, Pittsburgh. The Jets now have ten unanswered points.
  • Former Steelers coach Bill Cowher (he who picked the Jets to win) said during halftime that if New York wanted to mount a comeback, their defense would need to make a play. Well, the Jets delivered; granted, Ben Roethlisberger pitched them a fastball right over the plate, all New York had to do was hit it out of the park. The quarterback evaded pass rushers at midfield, then chucked the ball deep into a two-safety look. Brodney Pool easily picked it off, ensuring the Steelers wouldn't build on their lead. I said in my second quarter notes that I was hesitant to call this one at the half - that's why. Fortunately, the Jets' ensuing drive was a three-and-out.
  • Phil Simms tried to make the point that it's okay to throw interceptions every once and a while, that Roethlisberger's proneness for risk-taking sometimes results in blemishes on the stat sheet, sure, but it often produces big plays, too. Fair enough. But it was just Chapter Eight Million in Simms's treatise against statistics. (I don't know what his exact words were, but the thrust was that "statistics don't matter.") When will Simms give this a rest? He seems like the jock in high school who's still sore about getting placed in remedial math. Sometimes statistics are deceptive, yes, but they're hardly meaningless. Rather, they're the best tool we have for understanding football. Simms is the kind of guy who thinks Vince Young is a good quarterback because he just "knows how to win games." Give me a break.
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AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh Leads 24-3, One Half From Super Bowl XLV

The Steelers are off to a dominant start in tonight's AFC Championship against the New York Jets, who simply look outclassed after one half of football. Here are some of my observations from the second quarter. Be sure to check out my first quarter notes, too.

  • Deep in Jets territory, the Steelers went for it on 4th-&-1 in the full house formation, a run-heavy pre-snap look. Surprisingly, though, Pittsburgh went play action, and linebacker Bryan Thomas intercepted a tipped pass intended for Rashard Mendenhall. The decision to go for it and the play call were solid, but Mendenhall, who seemed surprised that Ben Roethilsberger threw it so hard, should have made the catch. Regardless, the interception, while it looks bad in the stat sheet, is irrelevant, since a failed 4th down attempt would've produced the same result, in terms of field position.
  • I slurped Mendenhall (127 total yards, including an awesome 35-yard rush (video) up the sideline) in my first quarter notes, but Issac Redman has been no slouch either, particularly on a run deep in New York territory, where the bruiser kept spinning and bouncing off tacklers for a 13-yard gain. The scamper was just a small part of a 60-yard drive that culminated in a Steelers field goal, giving Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead. After one half of football, Redman has 27 (6.8 yards per carry) of Pittsburgh's 136 yards on the ground.
  • I mentioned in my last post that a Steelers-Packers Super Bowl would be one that pitted two great rushing quarterbacks against each other. The Packers Aaron Rodgers certainly lived up to that against the Bears earlier this afternoon, and Roethlisberger is getting it done on the ground, too. On the Jets 2 yard line, the quarterback went play action and looked to have a dump off pass in the flats, but Roethlisberger simply rolled out and walked it into the end zone, giving his team a 17-point lead.
  • Just a few plays later, Pittsburgh's nasty defense forced a fumble when Ike Taylor came on a blitz and fellow cornerback William Gay scooped it up and took it to the house. I hate to call this one at the half, especially considering the Steelers' late-game heroics last week against the Ravens, but I just can't see the Jets overcoming a 21-point deficit in the second half.
  • The Jets are a very good team. I mean, obviously they're a good team; this is their second straight year in the conference championship. But I still think they're a year or two away from being a truly elite team, simply because their offense lacks consistency with youngster Mark Sanchez at the helm. That unit is capable of looking great from time to time, but the Jets will never go to the Super Bowl until their quarterback improves his accuracy. In the first half of tonight's contest, Sanchez has been...um...bad (4.5 yards per attempt). Of course, it's not all his incompetence - you've got to give Pittsburgh's defense a ton of credit for their dominant performance.
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AFC Championship, Jets Vs. Steelers: Rashard Mendenhall Leads Pittsburgh To First Quarter Lead

Leading up to tonight's AFC Championship game, the New York Jets knocked off Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two Super Bowl winning quarterbacks. Now they're looking to make it three in a row against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are aiming for their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. Here are some of my observations from the first quarter:

  • The Steelers offense was effective moving the ball against the Jets in their Week 15 loss, and they picked up right where they left off in tonight's opening drive. Rashard Mendenhall broke off some impressive runs, the ridiculousness of which won't show up on the stat sheet. At one point, guard Chris Kemoeatu was pushed back into Mendenhall, who bobbed and weaved through traffic for an improbable 8-yard gain. 
  • Later, Roethlisberger hit tight end Heath Miller, whose absence was apparent the first time these teams clashed, on a 21-yard strike that set up a 1st-&-goal. The play probably should've resulted in a touchdown, but Roethlisberger overthrew his target, who had to make a high degree-of-difficultly catch for someone who was completely wide open. Unfortunately, a Rex Ryan challenge nullified the play. Roethlisberger was able to convert a few plays later as he stepped up through the collapsed pocket and scrambled for 12 yards. (If the Steelers win today, it'll be a matchup of perhaps the two best rushing quarterbacks (Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers) ever in a Super Bowl.) 
  • Mendenhall scored the game's first touchdown on a power rush; he was met at the line by Jets defenders but made a great second effort. The 66-yard drive lasted nine minutes and six seconds. Not a bad way to start!
  • Unfortunately, the points came at a cost; rookie standout center Maurkice Pouncey left the action with what looked to be a knee sprain. It doesn't look like he'll be coming back. Doug Legursky, who's filled in at a number of positions during the line's injury-riddled season, will fill in at center. Pay attention to the quarterback-center exchange and how Legursky handles (or fails to handle) Jets defensive tackle Shaun Ellis.
  • Brett Keisel's beard is epic (photo), just in case you didn't know already
  • Mendenhall kept the ball rolling in Pittsburgh's second possession. After one quarter, he's already recorded 59 yards (41 on the ground). Here's to hoping they keep it going in the second quarter.
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NFL Scores: Packers Defeat Bears, Head To Super Bowl

The Green Bay Packers will be the NFC’s representative in the Super Bowl after beating the Chicago Bears 21-14. The Packers took a 14-0 lead into halftime after a short touchdown run by Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter and a four-yard run by James Starks in the second quarter.

The Bears made things interesting in the fourth quarter with a one-yard toucdown run by Chester Taylor after a drive led by quarterback Caleb Hanie (Jay Cutler left the game with an injury). Chicago had the ball with seven minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but a pick-six by B.J. Raji (complete with an embarrassing Leon Lett-esque celebration before crossing the goal line) put the Packers up by two touchdowns. The Bears added another touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Hanie to Earl Bennett, but it wasn’t enough.

The Packers will thus be keeping an eye on the AFC Championship Game between the Jets and Steelers to see who their Super Bowl opponent will be.

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NFC Championship Game: Links For Packers Vs. Bears

With the NFC Championship Game between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears later this afternoon, here are a few links to get you prepared. I’m sure you’ll all be watching to see who the Steelers will play in the Super Bowl … if they beat the Jets, that is:

-P- I found this video from the Brookfield Zoo to be mildly entertaining. (This is on Windy City Gridiron, which is SB Nation's Bears blog.)

-P- The Bears will use plenty of zone blitzes against the Packers.

-P- Football Outsiders explains why the Packers are more likely to win in this incredibly detailed preview:

Although there are places where Chicago has an advantage — notably special teams — the Packers have far more mismatches to exploit than the Bears do on offense and defense. The hip injury to Harris, which has kept him out of practice for most of the week, should create another one even if the Bears safety can go on Sunday.

-P- The SB Nation Packers blog, Acme Packing Company, explains why Jay Cutler’s performance is so important for the Bears’ chances.

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AFC Championship Game, Jets Vs. Steelers: Steelers Prepare For Harsh Weather

This won’t shock anyone who’s anywhere near Pittsburgh, but the Trib points out that it’s going to be cold for the game on Sunday. The Steelers’ defenders will go sleeveless, however:

Now in his 14th season, the Steelers captain and his teammates on the NFL’s top-ranked defense plan to be sleeveless for their AFC Championship Game against the Jets at 6:30 p.m. today tonight in Heinz Field. AccuWeather’s forecast calls for a game-time temperature of 16 degrees with a wind chill that will make it feel like 10 degrees.

“No sleeves all the time, man,” said Steelers free safety Ryan Clark, calling long sleeves under the uniform “a sign of weakness.”

The NFC Championship game in Chicago will be extremely cold, too: The Weather Channel says the high in Chicago on Sunday is 20 degrees. None of the four remaining teams should be fazed, though. This year’s final four playoff teams are all from cold areas. Last week there were scenarios in which the NFC Championship could have been in Seattle (which has a high of 52 degrees today) or Atlanta, but those turned out not to be the case. Anyway, the Steelers will be wearing special clothing and will have heaters on their benches. If you’re heading out to the game, dress well.

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NFL Playoffs, Jets Vs. Steelers: Teams Won't Talk Trash, But Their Mayors Will

Compared to last week's near constant trash talk between the Jets and the Patriots and the Steelers and the Ravens, the build-up to this weekend's AFC Championship between New York and Pittsburgh has pretty much been a love-fest.

But that hasn't stopped Michael Bloomberg and Luke Ravenstahl, the two cities' mayors, from pandering to the obvious populist appeal of football for political gain publicly smearing the opposition and rooting their teams on. At a recent rally, Ravenstahl predicted a Steelers win, asking the crowd what the Statue of Liberty might look like if she were waving a Terrible Towel. (My opinion: totally awesome.) He also had some words for Bloomberg:

"The Mayor over there seems to be dragging his feet. He knows the Steelers are going to win, that's why ... I'll make a prediction. The Jets won't score an offensive touchdown."

Whoa - that's waaaaay more bold than my prediction for the game! Bloomberg has (of course) predicted a Jets win but failed to reach for the stars like Ravensthal. You'll recall that this is the same guy who hilariously changed his name to "Steelerstahl" for the week leading up to the Steelers' AFC Championship matchup against Baltimore a couple seasons back. This is a politician who knows what Pittsburgh sports fans want - give him that.

All of this is great, but I think my favorite part of the whole story is the not-so-subtle dig at Pittsburgh that the New York Daily News works into its poll:

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Get it? You see, NYC is an amazing place with tons of awesome things to do besides watch football! Now, I've only been to New York ten or fifteen times, but if you haven't been, this is what a typical weekend looks like, just hanging with Robert Loggia:

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NFL Playoff Matchups, Jets Vs. Steelers: Shaun Ellis Says He'll Pound Maurkice Pouncey

New York Jets defensive tackle Shaun Ellis recently called out Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers' Pro Bowl center, stating that the rookie might be in over his head when the two teams clash in the AFC Championship this Sunday:

"Our defense is fairly complicated, so I think [Pouncey] will struggle a little bit with the pick-ups on the blitz."

That didn't really transpire the last time the Jets and Steelers met, a Week 15 New York victory in which Gang Green registered "just" three sacks, two of which came on cornerback blitzes, as I pointed out in my prediction of a Steelers win earlier this week.

It's easy to parse out the source of Ellis' confidence; he was a one-man wrecking crew in last week's upset over the New England Patriots, racking up five tackles and two sacks. That said, Pouncey has rarely seemed confused in his first season with the Steelers. However, when informed of Ellis' remarks, the center did emphasize the importance of preparation:

They are confusing ... You really do got to study, because they are good at what they do." 

No doubt, keeping quarterback Ben Roethlisberger upright will be key to securing a Steelers victory.

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NFL Playoff Picks, Jets Vs. Steelers: Bill Cowher Picks Jets To Beat Pittsburgh

The Steelers might be favorites in this weekend’s AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets, but not everyone is on the bandwagon. The Trib reports that former Steelers coach Bill Cowher, of all people, is picking the Jets:

Earlier this week Cowher said on WFAN, “The way the Jets are playing, I’m telling you this is going to be a game, I think it will be a classic game, and I like the Jets. They match up well. I think it’s going to be a tough ball game, but they certainly have all the ingredients to go to the Super Bowl.”

You can check out the audio here.

Once you get beyond the headline (“COWHER PICKS JETS!”), it really isn’t particularly provocative stuff. Cowher expresses concern that the Jets won’t be as motivated as they were last week against the Patriots, and says that both the Steelers and Jets are playing better than they did when they met in Week 15. Having their former coach pick against them surely is great locker-room stuff for the Steelers, though.

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Steelers Vs. Jets: AFC Championship Game Odds And Prop Bets

There’s not am ore time in the NFL season to look at betting lines and prop bets than the NFL playoffs. We’ve been keeping tabs on the lines all season and postseason here on SB Nation Pittsburgh. With just three games remaining in the season, let’s keep at it and see what we’ve got. This is the time of year when the volume of action really picks up, as casual bettors are far more inclined to drop a few bucks down on this or that just for the sake of it as they watch what are the final games of the year. Let’s get to it. Odds courtesy of Bodog.


New York Jets at Pittsburgh Steelers

New York Jets +3.5

Pittsburgh Steelers -3.5

New York Jets Total Team Points
Over/Under 17

Pittsburgh Steelers Total Team Points
Over/Under 21.5

Team to score first in the game
New York Jets +115

Pittsburgh Steelers -145

The first score of the game will be?


Touchdown -140

Field Goal or Safety +110


How many 15 Yard Penalties will be called in the game?

Over/Under 1.5

Which team will record more sacks in the game
New York Jets -1

Pittsburgh Steelers +1


Total Passing Yards – Mark Sanchez

Over /Under 205.5


Total Rushing Yards – New York Jets

Over/Under 90.5


Total Receiving Yards –Santonio Holmes

Over/Under 60.5

Total Receptions – Santonio Holmes
Over/Under 4.5

Will Santonio Holmes score a TD in the game?
Yes +145

No -175

Will Darelle Revis intercept a pass?
Yes +300

No -400

Total Passing Yards – Ben Roethlisberger
Over/Under 240.5


Total Rushing Yards – Rashard Mendenhall

Over/Under 72.5

Total Receiving Yards – Mike Wallace
Over/Under 62.5


Total Receptions – Mike Wallace

Over/Under 3.5

Will Mike Wallace Score a TD in the game?
Yes +125

No -155

Will Troy Polamalu intercept a pass?


Yes +195

No -250

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NFL Playoff Schedule: Jets Vs. Steelers, Packers Vs. Bears

Here’s your NFL playoff schedule for the conference championships this weekend. The Packers will play the Bears in Chicago at 3:00 on Sunday on FOX. The Packers are three-point favorites, but Michael Bean, in his playoff picks post, picks the Bears to win a close game in a hostile environment for the Packers.

The game most of you care about between the Jets and Steelers is in Pittsburgh at 6:30 Sunday on CBS. The Steelers are three-point favorites, but that seems a bit low to me given that they’ll be playing at home. Speaking of which, the Steelers are telling their fans to make sure Heinz Field is really, really loud:

“Lots of noise, lots of excitement,” said Ben Roethlisberger. “We want energy, which they always bring, but take it to the next level. Mark Sanchez uses a cadence and I want it to be so loud they can’t hear him talk” …

“I want them to be exactly like they were last week,” said Chris Hoke. “They were loud, excited, they were into it. We need that so their offense has a hard time making checks in their reads and confuse them, go out and make some false starts.”

Many players said this week that the last game was the loudest they have ever heard Heinz Field get, and they are hoping for more.

SB Nation Pittsburgh’s Pete Wilmoth predicts a seven-point win for the Steelers.

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Steelers Vs. Jets: Aaron Smith Limited In Wednesday Practice, Still Hopeful To Play In AFC Championship Game

Aaron Smith, long recognized by Steeler Nation as one of the most underrated players in all of football, practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday. Smith has been sidelined with a triceps injury sustained during the Steelers’ Week 7 win over Miami. A week or so ago, the best guess was that Smith wouldn’t be ready until the Super Bowl. But the prognosis has changed slightly since then, and Smith might be available to take 10-15 snaps against the Jets. Head coach Mike Tomlin has stated that Evander ‘Ziggy’ Hood has more than earned the right to retain his starting job. The hope though is that Smith might be able to spell Hood on at least a handful of plays, or somehow be rotated in along the defensive line. We’ll see. Tricep injuries are notoriously painful, and though the Steelers are in a ‘do-or-die’ situation, I don’t think anybody within the organization or fanbase wants to see Smith risk injuring himself further.

Watch/listen to Smith address the media before Wednesday’s practice

Here’s the rest of the Wednesday injury report for the six-time champs:

DID NOT PARTICIPATE IN PRACTICE
Wednesday — S Will Allen (knee), WR Arnaz Battle (illness), CB Bryant McFadden (abdomen), S Troy Polamalu (achilles)

LIMITED PARTICIPATION IN PRACTICE
Wednesday
DE Aaron Smith (triceps)

For more Steelers coverage, analysis and fan discussion, head on over to Behind the Steel Curtain.

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Steelers Vs. Jets: AFC Championship Game Capsule

The countdown is on to Sunday's AFC Championship Game between the six-time Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the upstart, loud-mouthed, confident New York Jets. The two teams met at Heinz Field in Week 15 of the regular season, with the Jets holding on 22-17. The Steelers however are favored by three points in the playoff rematch. To continue our preview coverage of the inriguing match up, here's our weekly game capsule for the black and gold, replete with series history information, up-to-date stats, and facts, figures and trends about both teams heading into the conference title game.


NEW YORK JETS-AFC EAST (13-5) AT PITTSBURGH STEELERS-AFC NORTH (13-4)

 

SERIES

 

JETS

STEELERS

LEADER (REG. SEASON)

 

15-4

STREAKS (REG. SEASON)

3 of past 4

6 of past 9

COACHES VS. OPP.

(REG. & POSTSEASON)

Ryan: 1-0

Tomlin: 0-2

COACHES PLAYOFF RECORD

4-1

4-1

VS. COMMON OPP.

(REG. SEASON)

NYJ: 6-3 (Bal. 0-1, Buf. 2-0, Cin. 1-0, Cle. 1-0, Mia. 1-1, NE 1-1)

Pit.: 7-2 (Bal. 1-1, Buf. 1-0, Cin. 2-0, Cle. 2-0, Mia. 1-0, NE 0-1)

PLAYOFF RECORD

12-12

32-19

LAST WEEK

W 28-21 at Patriots

W 31-24 vs. Ravens

LAST GAME (REG. SEASON)

12/19/10: Jets 22 at Steelers 17. Jets score game's final 12 points, capped by DE Jason Taylor's safety. CB Maurqice Cole defends pass in end zone on final play from Pit 10.

LAST GAME AT SITE

(REG. SEASON)

12/19/10

LAST PLAYOFF

1/15/05: Jets 17 at Steelers 20 (OT). Pit. doesn't allow offensive TD & WR Hines Ward posts 10 rec. for 105 yards w/ game-tying score. Reed's 33-yd. FG in OT sends Steelers to AFC Championship round.

BROADCAST

CBS (6:30 PM ET): Jim Nantz, Phil Simms. Westwood One Radio: Dave Sims, James Lofton, Hub Arkush (Field reporter). SIRIUS: 124 (WW1), 125 (NYJ.), 123 (Pit.). XM: 124 (WW1), 103 (NYJ.), 102 (Pit.).

 

REGULAR SEASON STAT LEADERS

PASSING

Sanchez: 278-507-3,291-17-13-75.3

Roethlisberger: 240-389-3,200-17-5-97.0 (3C)

RUSHING

Tomlinson: 219-914-4.2-6

Mendenhall: 324-1,273-3.9-13 (T2L)

RECEIVING

Keller (TE): 55-687-12.5-5

Wallace: 60-1,257 (3C)-21.0-10 (T3C)

OFFENSE

351.0

345.3

TAKE/GIVE

+9 (T3C)

+17 (2L)

DEFENSE

    291.5 (3L)

    276.8 (2L)

SACKS

Thomas: 6

Harrison: 10.5

INTs

Cromartie, Lowery: 3

Polamalu: 7 (T2L)

PR

Wilson: 7.4

Brown: 5.8

KR

B. Smith: 28.6 (2L)

Sanders: 25.1

PUNTING

Weatherford: 42.6

Kapinos: 41.9

KICKING

Folk: 127 (3C) (37/37 PAT; 30/39 FG)

Suisham: 61 (19/19 PAT; 14/15 FG)

 

For more Steelers-Jets coverage, stay tuned here and at Behind the Steel Curtain throughout the week.

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Jets Change Gears, Quiet Down In Preparation For AFC Championship Game Against Steelers

At this time last week, the New York Jets had long since started their barking about their upcoming Divisional Round tilt with the rival New England Patriots. Rex Ryan got things started by saying that he planned to outcoach Bill Belichick for at least one day; Antonio Cromartie then took it to the next level with his derogatory comments about Tom Brady.

Regardless of whether you think the Jets are ‘classless’ or something similarly negative, you can’t call them one-trick ponies. The Jets have changed gears since stunning the Patriots on Sunday afternoon, and are now in a more quiet and focused mode as they prepare for the six-time Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Ryan has stated that Mike Tomlin is one of his ‘favorites’, and Cromartie had nothing but glowing remarks about Ben Roethlisberger, saying, “I love Ben, man. Ben’s a competitor, man.’’

You can count on Ryan devising a fresh gameplan for Big Ben and the Steelers. He’s certainly familiar with Roethlisberger from his long tenure in Baltimore. But Ryan’s players know that even the best gameplan doesn’t always work like it does with less mobile and strong quarterbacks.

“You can’t prepare for what he naturally does,” defensive lineman Trevor Pryce said. How do you prepare to tackle a guy as big as a polar bear? How do you prepare for a guy who can flick a ball 50 yards at the drop of a dime? How do you prepare for a guy that can run like he does? How do you prepare for a guy that wants to win like he wants to win?

“I don’t think anything really works with that guy, because he makes it up as he goes along. He’s as big as all of us and he’s impossible to tackle. He will not go down. If you go in there and do the same thing, he’ll kill you.”

Once the teams line up on Sunday afternoon, you can count on there being plenty of talking, pushing, shoving and bravado on full display. But for now, the Jets have put the incendiary talking on hold while they prepare for the Steelers.

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NFL Playoffs, AFC Championship - Jets Vs. Steelers: Santonio Holmes Doesn't Have Pittsburgh's Kryptonite

One of the persistent storylines of this week's AFC Championship game between the New York Jets and the Pittsburgh Steelers will undoubtedly be wide receiver Santonio Holmes' second return to Heinz Field. Prognosticators will say that Holmes' four seasons in Pittsburgh - after a bargain-bin trade sent him to New York nine months ago - give the Jets a special edge when the Steelers defense is on the field. Holmes has already added legs to this lazy narrative:

"I know what [Pittsburgh's] defense is all about. I know how I can help my team exploit their defense, and we're going to use every bit of it this week."

Frankly, I think this is nonsense. Holmes probably understands Dick LeBeau's zone blitz scheme (at least the coverages) better than any player on the Jets, sure, but does he really have some special, secret insight into the Steel Curtain that Rex Ryan doesn't already possess? I seriously doubt it. After all, Ryan spent nearly a decade on the Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff, competing against the Steelers at least twice a year.

Perhaps Holmes is aware of some individual tendencies of the Steelers defensive backs, especially cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, who Holmes had to line up against in practice for all those years. But I actually think it's more likely that Mike Tomlin and company have more ideas for how to stop Holmes. After all, they're coaches, they guided his development as a young receiver. Holmes is just a player, albeit a damn good one.

In any case, if Holmes does have some Steelers kryptonite in his back pocket, it sure didn't show the last time these teams met, a 22-17 Jets victory in Week 15. Fellow wideout Braylon Edwards (8 receptions, 100 yards) inflicted more damage than Holmes (6, 40), and quarterback Mark Sanchez recorded only 5.86 yards per pass.

Holmes is a good player, and he's been known to make a clutch reception (video) from time to time. He could definitely have a game-changing performance on Sunday, but it won't be because he used to be a Steeler. Don't get me wrong: it makes me sad that Pittsburgh had to surrender his services for just a fifth-round pick (even if it was one that Kevin Colbert deftly used to (re)acquire cornerback Bryant McFadden and rookie receiver Antonio Brown). But Holmes' time with the Steelers doesn't mean anything special for the X's-and-O's purposes of the AFC Championship.

It's just narrative fodder for the press.

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Jets Vs. Steelers Injuries: Aaron Smith Will Practice For Steelers

The Post-Gazette reports that, at long last, Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith will practice in preparation for this week’s AFC Championship Game between the Jets and Steelers.

The coach said that even if Smith is deemed ready to go it would probably be on a limited basis in the AFC championship game Sunday against the Jets at Heinz Field.

Smith has been out with a torn triceps forever, so it seems unlikely to me that he’s going to be ready to go this week. Having him back even for parts of the game could be a boon for the Steelers, however.

In other injury news, cornerback Bryant McFadden (abdominal strain) will be limited in his participation in practice this week, but he is expected to play. Troy Polamalu (Achilles) will be limited as well, but that’s the case for him every week, and he should also play. Flozell Adams and Jonathan Scott, who both left last week’s game against the Ravens, should be ready to go as well.

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NFL Playoffs, AFC Championship - Jets Vs. Steelers: Pittsburgh Pumped About Home-Field Advantage

Not many folks gave the Jets a chance against the Patriots in last weekend's divisional round of the NFL playoffs, not after that same New England squad completely dismantled New York on national television a few weeks prior. However, Rex Ryan and company came out swinging in the rivals' rubber match, developing a complex defensive scheme that completely frustrated Tom Brady, whose regular season had been characterized by an almost unflappable perfection. No one outside of New York could be happier about the "upset" - I don't want to agitate Bart Scott (video) - than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who will now host the AFC Championship game on Sunday evening. Safety Ryan Clark called the difference between staying at home and travelling to Foxborough "huge":

"It's good because you get to do the same routine. Going on the road, and having to pack up? Fly? That's the part of home-field advantage that I don't think people understand. You've got the big locker room, not the small one they put you in when you're on the road. It's just little things like that that mean a lot as far as home games go."

Fair enough. I've always been one to discount the overhyped importance of home-field advantage in professional sports. My thinking is that these are typically guys who have played on huge stages, in capacity stadiums for years and years. They train constantly and don't particularly mind where they're playing. In short, they're professionals. With the exception of perhaps a slight increase in false start penalties (especially in places with especially boisterous home-field advantages, like Kansas City and Seattle), I really don't think it makes a difference.

But of course, Clark makes some good points. While Steelers fans famously travel well and would no doubt have made their presence felt visiting New England, it's surely better to stay in the familiar confines of Heinz Field, where the players aren't forced to deal with the potentially exhausting logistical hurdles inherent in travelling.

That said, the good news of Sunday's Jets-Patriots scuffle isn't the venue - it's the opponent.

No disrespect to the Jets intended - they beat Pittsburgh in the regular season, after all! - but the Jets, who in many way plays a similar brand of football to Pittsburgh's, present less glaring matchup problems than the Patriots would have. We'll look into why that's the case in future posts. Stay tuned.

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Jets Vs. Steelers: Rex Ryan Says Jets Will Limit Trash Talk

There was a whole lot of trash talk in advance of the Jets' matchup against the Patriots last week, with Antonio Cromartie calling Tom Brady a name we shouldn't repeat here, Ryan proclaiming his matchup against Bill Belichick was "personal," and the Pats' Wes Welker repeatedly referring to foot-fetish videos that (allegedly? Do I have to say "allegedly"?) involved Ryan and his wife.

This week, though, Ryan and the Jets don't sound like they'll have as much to say.

On Monday, Ryan heaped praise upon his next counterpart, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who he said was "one of my favorite coaches."

He said he had no script of trash talk he expects to follow.

"That game was different, every game is different," Ryan said. "I don't have a plan on what to say ... I just say it the way it is. If you can't get motivated to win an AFC championship game, I don't know what else you need."

Pressed on why there might be less trash talk against the Steelers, Ryan -- the former Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator -- joked he could mix it up with his former rivals.

"Give me somebody you want to call out ... I guess Hines Ward, Casey Hampton," he said.

The Steelers are coming off a somewhat trash-talk-filled week themselves, against their own divisional rivals. Terrell Suggs wore a shirt with a cartoon Raven flipping the bird at Pittsburgh, and coach John Harbaugh proclaimed that he was "glad" the Ravens broke Ben Roethlisberger's nose. There was an undercurrent of admiration that went along with all that trash talk, though - Suggs said the Ravens/Steelers matchup was, essentially, the Super Bowl, and Harbaugh said he respected that Roethlisberger played through the broken nose.

So while the Ravens/Steelers matchup had plenty of trash talk, it really wasn't on the same level as, say, the stunt Welker pulled before the Jets/Patriots game. It sounds like we'll be hearing a lot less trash talk of either category this week, though. Last week's AFC playoff matchups included two games between divisional rivals, and a lot of the hate - or fake hate? - stemmed from that.

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