Sunday’s road game against the Steelers (3-1) will hold even greater significance for a few players with Pittsburgh ties:
— Jets receiver Brandon Marshall was born in Pittsburgh and to this day, still refers to the Steelers’ home turf as Three Rivers Stadium — the multipurpose stadium that hosted Pittsburgh Pirates and Steelers games for 30 years until 2000. After it was imploded, the Steelers began playing at Heinz Field in 2001.
“It’s a hostile environment,” Marshall said of going into enemy territory. “I understand the type of stadium we’re going into, the type of person that’s going to be there, the type of fan. It’s going to be rowdy. It’s going to be the toughest environment a lot of us have played (in) since we’ve been playing football. It’s going to be hard. That offense is a high-powered offense. That defense is not the defense of old, but those guys are playing together and they’re not giving up big plays. We’re going to have to be patient and go down the field. And it’s going to have to be eight, nine,10-play drives and we’ve got to have the willpower to be able to sustain.”
— Rontez Miles has never played against the Steelers at Heinz Field, but he grew up 13 miles from the stadium in Braddock, Pennsylvania. And now, the Jets safety has carries his hometown team wherever he goes. Miles, “a die-hard” Steelers fan as a child, said he got the team’s logo tattooed on his upper left arm when he was in high school. At the time, becoming an NFL player had seemed like a pipe dream. But as the 27-year-old prepared for Pittsburgh this past week, his ink drew plenty of attention.
“It wasn’t a big deal to me until this week. It’s regular to me,” Miles said, smiling. “A couple of guys made some jokes about it. (Linebacker Erin) Henderson said I’m going to have to cover it up. Guys were laughing about it. But that’s about it.”
He had wanted to get a tattoo that represented the city of Pittsburgh. “It wasn’t even so much about the Steelers,” said Miles, who also has “412,” the city’s area code, etched on the same arm. “It’s representing where I’m from, so I never thought that deep into it.”
The names of his favorite Steelers flowed from his lips: Jerome Bettis, Kordell Stewart, Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu, Levon Kirkland, James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Mike Flowers, Tommy Maddox, Plaxico Burress, Chris Fuamatu-Maʻafala. “I grew up watching all those guys,” Miles beamed.
And now, “over 100” of his family members will be at Heinz Field, fiercely rooting for the home team. “They’re all Jets fans, don’t get me wrong,” he said. “They’re going to cheer for me, probably. But they’re die-hard Steelers fans. It just is what it is. I can’t change that.”
Miles said he can’t predict how he’ll feel until he steps on the field. “I’ve been trying to tell myself to treat it like a regular game, you know? Just go out there and have fun. But it’s going to be exciting though.”
— Though Steve McLendon grew up in Alabama, he learned how to be a professional football player in the Steelers organization. There, he went from being a backup to a starter. And, he said, it’ll be hard keeping his emotions in check. “I’m sorry. I just can’t. I love this game,” said the Jets defensive lineman, who played six seasons with the Steelers. McLendon, who signed with Pittsburgh as an undrafted free agent in 2010, became a Jet this past offseason after inking a three-year deal. He’s already tied his career-high with two sacks. Asked about his return to the Steel City, he said: “It’s very exciting. I’m ready. I think the team’s ready. …They’re going to play with emotions, we’re going to play with emotions. One thing I tell the guys, it’s about that time. It’s about that time to get a win. And it would help us if we get a win against a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
— Darrelle Revis’ Pittsburgh roots run deep. The star cornerback grew up in Aliquippa, Pa., about 20 miles away from Heinz Field, and is a University of Pittsburgh alum. Asked if it hurts more that he might not be able to play in this particular game, he said: “It would be great to play in front of my home crowd and whatnot, but I can’t control injuries and such. I was about to say, ‘I wish it could happen another game,’ but no, it’s an injury so it’s just something you can’t control.”The Jets are 1-3 and they need a win badly. They’ve lost two straight, their quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has thrown a historic nine interceptions in two games and they’re facing the possibility of being down four starters in Pittsburgh — WR Eric Decker (shoulder) and RG Brian Winters (concussion) are out, while CB Darrelle Revis (hamstring) is doubtful and WR Quincy Enunwa is questionable.
Bad moon rising
Not only are the Jets banged up, but they’re about to face one of the best offenses in the NFL (Ben Roethlisberger is ninth in the NFL in passing yards - 1,116). If Revis doesn’t play, the pass-happy Steelers may look to their take their shots against cornerbacks Buster Skrine, Marcus Williams, rookie Juston Burris and backup Darryl Roberts.
The Steelers are 17-5 against the Jets overall in the regular season and 7-1 when playing in Pittsburgh.
“He’s our anchor. He keeps everything steady.” — Brandon Marshall on Ryan Fitzpatrick
The number of passing yards Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger needs to reach 45,000 in his NFL career
Pittsburgh ranks second in the NFL with a 49.1 third-down conversion rate (26-of-53)
RB Matt Forte — The Jets had to ditch the running game the past two weeks after falling behind. But if Forte (and Bilal Powell) can get going early, it’ll go along way in keeping Roethlisberger & Co. off the field.
DL Muhammad Wilkerson — He’s been relatively quiet the past three games, but the Jets need a big game from Big Mo. Pittsburgh will be without its first- and second-team right tackles (Marcus Gilbert and Ryan Harris), so he and his linemates need to get after Big Ben.
TE to the rescue?
With injuries mounting, the Jets could activate Austin Seferian-Jenkins and use him in a limited number of packages. “He’s getting a better understanding being in Week 2,” Bowles said of the 6-5, 262 tight end, who had three catches for 44 yards in three Bucs’ games this year. “…He’s getting a better understanding of certain things. Not the overall grasp, but he can do certain things.”