AFC Championship 2011: The Agony of Defeat in the Steel City

This was supposed to be our year. This was supposed to be our time. This was not the end the New York Jets had in mind. The Jets season ended in bitter disappointment with their 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game Sunday night. A bitter taste the team knows all to well after suffering their second consecutive AFC Championship loss.

After a whirlwind season full of controversies, tough talk and some of the most exciting football in the history of the franchise, Jets head coach Rex Ryan finds his squad once again on the outside looking in.

“We were one game away again,” Ryan said. “It cuts your heart out.”

This game would turn out to be a tale of two very different halves. The Pittsburgh Steelers silenced the brash talking Jets through the first half of the game, by setting the tone early with a 66-yard march that took up the first nine minutes of the quarter.

Pittsburgh would eventually hold the Jets to a pitiful 60 total yards for the half. Pittsburgh held the ball for more than 21 minutes, out-gained the Jets, 231-50, and out-rushed them, 135-1, in the opening half.

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and running back Rashard Mendenhall absolutely dominated the vaulted Jets defense through the first half, jumping out to a 24–0 lead before the Jets would score a field goal in the final moments of the half.

A lead the Steelers would never relinquish.

Rashard Mendenhall piled 121 rushing yards on a New York run defense that had only given up an average of 91 yards a game previously. The Jets defense allowed a total of 166 yards rushing. Ben Roethlisberger displayed his scrambling skills several times, using his feet to repeatedly extend several drives. The first half of play was a picture of dominance and control for the Steelers.

The New York Jets would find new life and vigor in the second half; unfortunately, it would prove to be too little, too late. Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez, would lead the team to 19 unanswered second half points including a 45-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes, the hero of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl victory two years ago, and a four-yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery to make it 24-19 with 3:06 remaining.

Unfortunately, the Jets would never get the ball back.

The Steelers faced a 3rd-and-6 with only two minutes left on the clock. The Jets defense pressured Roethlisberger heavily, desperate to get the ball back to their offense, but the big quarterback rolled out and hit WR Antonio Brown for a first down, allowing the Steelers to run out the clock.

Rex Ryan was visibly distraught, slamming his headset to the ground in obvious disgust and frustration. Rex Ryan is now the loser of three straight Championship games, two as a head coach.

“We played a good half. We never played a good game, and that was the difference,” Ryan said. “You get to this point, you’ve got to play a great game against a great opponent and we played a good half and that was it.”

The disappointing end to the season now leaves the Jets with more questions than answers. It’s uncertain if LaDainian Tomlinson or Jason Taylor will be back. The Jets will have plenty of other decisions to make on players such as Antonio Cromartie, Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards, Brad Smith and Shaun Ellis.

After two strong seasons culminating in consecutive AFC Championship losses, the biggest question facing this organization just might be:

“What will it take to get to the gold?”