Jets fans can't exhale until final play

New York Jets' Brad Smith (16) and Jerricho New York Jets' Brad Smith (16) and Jerricho Cotchery (89) celebrate Smith's return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown. (Dec. 19, 2010) Photo Credit: AP

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Bob Glauber Newsday columnist Bob Glauber

Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He was Newsday's football writer covering the Jets and ...

PITTSBURGH

As he stood on the sideline in the final seconds and watched Ben Roethlisberger drive the Steelers for the potential winning touchdown, Dustin Keller felt pretty much the way every Jets fan felt at the time.

The Jets led 22-17 with only nine seconds to play, but Roethlisberger had the Steelers at the Jets' 10-yard line. Still enough time for two shots at the end zone. Enough time to send the Jets to their third straight loss.

Keller was freaking out. "You go through all the possibilities in your mind, and you don't know whether to be excited or to throw up," the tight end said. "I was in between both."

So were Jets fans.

It wasn't until Roethlisberger missed a pass in the back of the end zone to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders and then saw his final desperation pass go off the fingertips of tight end Matt Spaeth with no time remaining that Keller - and every other Jets fan - could exhale.

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"We were just glad to get out of here with the win," Keller said. "If we'd have lost, that would have been a full-fledged throw-up."

Instead, the Jets upset the Steelers at Heinz Field, putting an end to a two-game losing streak that had threatened their playoff chances and temporarily removed the Super Bowl swagger that only two weeks earlier had reached a fever pitch.

After a humiliating 45-3 road loss to the Patriots two weeks ago and a desultory 10-6 home loss to the Dolphins - followed by the Tripgate controversy involving strength coach Sal Alosi - the Jets vanquished a Steelers team that has been close to unbeatable at home in the Roethlisberger era.

They did it with a turnover-free offense that included the unit's first touchdown since Nov. 25 and a resilient defense that gave up more yards (378) than usual but came through in the final moments.

Only one question left: Where the heck was this team the previous two weeks?

"This football team is resilient," coach Rex Ryan said. "You guys get tired of it, but I don't care. This win may surprise a lot of people, but it never surprised us . . . Same old Jets came down to Pittsburgh, got a win."

Ryan threw another jab at the Same Old Jets mantra that has seeped so deeply into the psyche of a franchise that has gotten so used to heartbreak. And why not? After all the losses, one more wrenching than the next, Ryan deserved a moment to rejoice in the win. Especially after delivering one of his most emotional speeches the night before the game, when he was close to tears in imploring his team to snap out of its funk.

Ryan actually called out his defense and his offensive line, according to two players, something almost unheard of from the usually positive coach.

"I'm not going to say who got called out, but sometimes you have to do that to make guys wake up and understand they've got to compete at all times," said cornerback Darrelle Revis, who added that the coach's eyes were watery during the speech. "It was the same speech as last year when he was crying [after a loss to Jacksonville]. You can't scream and yell and be emotional every week, but this time is when he felt it."

And the results were just as impressive as last year's tear-filled speech, which sparked a playoff run. This time, looking more like the Super Bowl contender they'd claimed to be since training camp, the Jets went toe-to-toe with a very good Steelers team, albeit one without safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller.

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"We were sinking," linebacker Bart Scott said. "We went from fighting for the best record in the league to possibly fighting for the playoffs if we lose this game."

Now the Jets (10-4) are in terrific shape to make the playoffs. To come up short, the bottom would have to fall out, and just about every playoff permutation would have to go against them. If they play like this against the Bears and Bills, they'll clinch a playoff berth on their own.

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