A History: Jets vs. Steelers

Nick Laham

The Steelers lead the all-time series 18-4, while outscoring the Jets 501-283 in the process.

October 30, 1988: The New York Jets (4-3-1) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6) faced off for the 10th time in their history. After starting the series losing each of the first nine games—spanning over 18 years—New York looked to defeat Pittsburgh for the first time. Entering Sunday as 4.5 point favorites, Ken O'Brien looked to lead his team to win number one. Things did not start off the way Gang Green would have hoped, though, when Pittsburgh jumped to a quick 10-0 lead on the strength of a 25-yard Gary Anderson field goal and a 24-yard touchdown pass from Steeler QB Bubby Brister. After a Pat Leahy field goal cut the score to 10-3 in the second quarter, the Jets defense upped the pressure. Once the D gave the ball back to the offense, it was Ken O'Brien who found Mickey Shuler in the end zone for the game-tying score. In the second half the Jets continued to add on with a rushing touchdown from Johnny Hector, giving New York a 17-10 edge. While Brister had been abused throughout the day—taking six sacks and throwing two interceptions—he was able to lead the Steelers down the field for a field goal early in the fourth, cutting the deficit to four. New York would respond on offense once more as O'Brien—who had the lowest interception rate of any QB in 1988—drove against the Steelers defense, and the drive ended with a decisive touchdown run from Freeman McNeil. Pittsburgh's Earnest Jackson would rush for a touchdown later in the quarter, but it wouldn't be enough as the Jets defeated the Steelers for the first time by a score of 24-20.

December 12, 2004: The Jets (9-3) faced their toughest challenge of the season, facing the Steelers (12-1) in Pittsburgh. Led by young quarterback Chad Pennington, New York looked to pull of a victory that few thought possible. It was a defensive slugfest for the most part, as the only score of the first half was a Pittsburgh field goal converted by kicker Jeff Reed. The Jets would continue to go toe-to-toe with the Steelers, holding them to the one field goal and tying the game with one of their own from kicker Doug Brien. In the fourth quarter things changed, when on a trick play Steelers running back Jerome Bettis tossed a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerame Tuman, giving Pittsburgh a 10-3 lead. After another field goal by Brien, the Jets had a chance, now down 10-6. After holding the Steeler offense to under 300 yards on the day, they were not able to stop them late in the fourth quarter, as Jerome Bettis—now rushing the ball—got into the end zone. This was not the final time New York and Pittsburgh saw each other that season, nor was it the most painful of losses.

January 15, 2005: A week after stunning the San Diego Chargers in overtime, the Jets (11-6) once again met the Steelers (15-1) in Pittsburgh, this time playing to get to the AFC Championship Game. Going in as nine point underdogs, things did not start well for the Jets. Pittsburgh jumped on top early with a 45-yard field goal by Jeff Reed and a rushing touchdown by Bettis. New York fought back in the second quarter, however, when, after a Doug Brien field goal, Santana Moss took a punt 75 yards to the house, tying the game at 10. It was in the third quarter when people really started to believe. Jets safety Ryan Tounge picked off rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger, returning the interception 86 yards and into the end zone for a stunning 17-10 lead. Roethlisberger bounced back, finding Hines Ward on a shovel pass in the middle of the fourth quarter, tying the game at 17. Chad Pennington and the Jets offense—after being shutdown for most of the game—responded, driving down the field looking for the go-ahead score. The drive came to a disappointing end as Doug Brien just missed a 47-yard field goal, hitting the crossbar in the process. New York was given new life when on the very next play, Roethlisberger threw an interception to David Barrett. On the final play of regulation, Brien was given a chance to redeem himself by making a 43-yard field goal that would have sent the Jets on in the playoffs. Kicking in Pittsburgh has been known to be difficult, and Brien was well aware when he missed the kick wide left and the game would go into overtime. Roethlisberger, now given a new life, took the Steelers 73 yards down the field on 13 plays in OT, where Jeff Reed connected on a game-winning 33-yard field goal. This loss remains to be one of the most painful in Jets history and would go on to be known as 'The Doug Brien Game'.

January 23, 2011: Meeting for the second time in the postseason, and a week after shocking the world by beating the New England Patriots in Foxborough, the Jets (13-5) would once again travel to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers (13-4). After their unbelievable playoff victory the Sunday prior, many were believers of the Jets, even though they were 4 point underdogs heading into the game. New York had already defeated Pittsburgh that year as well, getting one of their signature victories of the season by winning 22-17 on a goal line stand at Heinz Field that past December. The Jets would come out flat, though. Rashard Mendenhall rushed for the game's opening score, which was quickly followed by a Shaun Suisham field goal that gave Pittsburgh a quick 10-0 lead. Ben Roethlisberger scrambled into the end zone for a touchdown in the second quarter, and just when it didn't look like it could get any worse, Mark Sanchez—on what was very close to a forward passing motion—fumbled on the Jets own end, where it was recovered by William Gay and returned for a touchdown. 24-0. The Jets would end the half with a field goal by Nick Folk, but the team went into the locker room stunned. The third quarter began better for New York, as Mark Sanchez found Santonio Holmes on a 45-yard touchdown pass that, at the time, seemed to have little meaning. This, however, was exactly the jump start the team needed. Entering the fourth quarter down by two touchdowns, the Jets would sack Roethlisberger in the end zone for a safety—after doing the exact same thing in their Week 15 victory. New York followed the safety when Sanchez found Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone for a touchdown, and all of a sudden the Jets were down five. With a 3rd and 6, the Jets defense had to get a stop to get the ball back, as they were now out of time outs. The Steelers surprisingly decided to call a passing play where Roethlisberger scrambled, coming extremely close to being sacked by Sione Pouha, and got the pass off where it was caught by a diving Antonio Brown. The Jets came within a foot from sacking Big Ben, or a few inches from the pass to Brown being incomplete, by neither happened. While they stormed back in the second half, New York was left wondering "what if?" as the team dropped their second consecutive AFC title game. They have not returned to the postseason since.

While the Jet have been dominated in this series, they have a huge opportunity to improve to 4-2 on Sunday. This may be the worst Steelers team in the past couple decades, sitting at 0-4 coming off of their bye week. The Jets will play Pittsburgh for the fourth time in the last three seasons, but the first time in New York since 2007. While everyone labels this as a potential let down or "trap" game, the Jets are well aware of this, and have their eyes set on beating Pittsburgh.

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