Whatever chance the Jets ultimately had of overcoming a 24-point first-half deficit to beat Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship and advance to Super Bowl XLV went down the tubes when they failed to score after having a first down at the Steelers' 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter Sunday at Heinz Field. There was 8:39 left in a game Pittsburgh led 24-10.
On first down, Shonn Greene carried up the middle for one yard to the one. Needing two touchdowns to force overtime, this was four-down territory. But on second-and-goal from the one, quarterback Mark Sanchez threw an incomplete pass that went off the fingertips of tight end Dustin Keller, who strained to reach a ball that was thrown low. On third down, Sanchez again dropped to pass, but it was batted down by linebacker LaMarr Woodley.
With 7:50 left, it was fourth down, and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer finally reverted to the running game, but running back LaDainian Tomlinson hit right guard and was stuffed for no gain by former Jet James Farrior. The playcalling certainly was suspect on second and third down. Could the Steelers have stopped three runs from the one-yard line? Unlikely.
On the other hand, when the Jets did run on fourth down, it went nowhere. Could they have won the game if they punched the touchdown across right there?
"I'm not a big would, coulda, shoulda guy," Jets left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "We didn't get it done. We lost, and we're not in the big game."
The ball went over to Pittsburgh, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the snap and fell on it in the end zone for a safety that made the score 24-12 and forced the Steelers to kick right back to the Jets. Following the free kick, the Jets drove 58 yards to score a touchdown on a 4-yard pass from Mark Sanchez to Jerricho Cotchery to cut the deficit to 24-19 with 3:06 left to play.
They never got the ball back as the Steelers ran out the clock. Had the Jets scored a touchdown instead of winding up with a safety, it's possible they could have come all the way back. Although they got the ball right back after the safety, they still needed two touchdowns for the win.
Had Tomlinson punched across the TD with 7:44 left, the Jets would have been one defensive stop away from getting the ball back with plenty of time left to drive for a game-tying TD. Instead, they took another 4:32 off the clock to get the TD they could have had at the 7:44 mark. That's an enormous difference.
Just as the Jets failed to stop the run on defense, they failed to run effectively on offense, totaling only 70 yards in 22 rushing attempts. Greene's 23-yard draw play was the only run of at least 10 yards. And most of all, they couldn't get two yards and a touchdown when they absolutely had to have it.
"It's very disappointing we couldn't get to the Super Bowl," Ferguson said. Referring to the failure of the running game, he added, "We didn't do enough to put it together, and it really hindered us."
There's no arguing that.