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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.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.