Smith, Weatherford truly 'special' for Jets

Posted Dec. 20, 2010 @ 5:40 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

It was easy to look at the Week 15 schedule and assume the Jets would lose. The team was coming off a stretch where it had been dismantled on national TV by the Patriots and then, less than a week later, lost to the Dolphins at home despite allowing only 10 points. For at least the fourth time this season, controversy was hovering over the team following the suspension and investigation of strength-and-conditioning coach Sal Alosi. And, oh yeah, the team was facing the league's most physical squad, the Steelers, in Heinz Field.

Yet despite having the deck seemingly stacked against them, the Jets came out and earned their most impressive win of the season. The team got points from the offense, defense and special teams, and the coaching staff put together a well-rounded game plan that allowed all three phases of the game to succeed. QB Mark Sanchez, who had been the target of radio call-in shows and angry columnists for the past week, had an efficient game, completing 66 percent of his passes, throwing no interceptions and rushing for a touchdown.

After the game, the second-year signalcaller said that it was a total team effort that led to the 22-17 victory.

"It was (important) for everybody on our offense to play our best and bounce back," Sanchez said, "and I knew we had the talent to do it and I knew we played well before."

The PFW Spin

A lot of attention in the days between the final gun in the Dolphins game and the opening kickoff of the Steelers game were paid to New York's struggling offense, and with good reason. The team had gone 11 consecutive quarters without an offensive TD and had scored a grand total of zero touchdowns total in their four losses. If the Jets were going to beat Pittsburgh, Sanchez and the offense had to deliver.

What nobody counted on, though, was that the opening kickoff of Sunday's game would be the offensive spark the team needed, and that it was the special teams that came through with the biggest impact.

KR Brad Smith caught the ball at the Jets' three-yard-line, followed the blocks of FBs Tony Richardson and John Conner, and then took off down the sideline, going 97 yards untouched to give New York an early 7-0 lead. Smith had done this before — his 89-yard kickoff return for a TD sealed the Jets' Week 12 win over the Bengals — but the score against the Steelers put his team in a position that has been foreign to them for much of the year: ahead in the first quarter.  

Excellent special-teams work showed up again later in the game. For the most part, P Steve Weatherford has done an excellent job all season, but he was at his best in the difficult windy and snow-covered conditions on Sunday. Twice in the final 2:45, the Jets were forced to punt, and both times Weatherford pinned Pittsburgh inside its own 10.

The first punt, which was downed at the Steelers' three, led directly to the biggest play of the game. Up by only a field goal, the Jets had a tough task on their hands, needing to stop Ben Roethlisberger from marching his offense down the field to tie the game or take the lead. Veteran OLB Jason Taylor, whom one team insider called "the Jets' Mariano Rivera" earlier this season alluding to Taylor's penchant for coming up with big plays at the end of games, perfectly read the halfback draw Pittsburgh ran. Coming across the play from the left side of the field, Taylor hit Mewelde Moore before Moore's legs were even running, twisting the running back into the endzone for a safety.

A few plays later, Weatherford was punting again, this time forcing the Steelers to start from their own eight. The 92 yards Pittsburgh needed to gain in 2:08 was just the right amount for the Jets, who allowed Roethlisberger to drive to the New York 10 before the defense clamped down, forcing consecutive incompletions to end the game.

Leading up to the game, the only talk of the Jets' special teams were whether or not the team intentionally lined up players on their sideline during punts to trip opposing players. But after a win nobody expected, the third phase of the game is receiving some much-deserved credit for coming through at the start and finish.