The New York Jets prepared for everything the Pittsburgh Steelers could throw at them. Everything except for Jerome Bettis' rarely seen passing arm. Three plays after surpassing...
PITTSBURGH The New York Jets prepared for everything the Pittsburgh Steelers could throw at them. Everything except for Jerome Bettis’ rarely seen passing arm.
Three plays after surpassing the 13,000-yard rushing mark early in the fourth quarter, Bettis flipped a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jerame Tuman, fooling what had been an impenetrable Jets defense and sending the Steelers to team-record-tying 17-6 victory yesterday.
On a day Bettis and the Jets’ Curtis Martin each broke the 13,000-yard barrier, Bettis also ran for his 12th touchdown of the season late in Pittsburgh’s 14-point fourth quarter.
“They made the plays, and that’s what good teams do, what championship teams do,” Jets coach Herman Edwards said. “Their guys played better than us in the fourth quarter.”
Until Bettis’ surprise throw, Pittsburgh’s offense didn’t look Super Bowl-ready as the Steelers (12-1) were held to 19 or fewer points for the fourth consecutive game. But they overcame a spotty game by rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to win a club-record-tying 11th in a row. The 1975 Super Bowl champion Steelers also won 11 straight in a 12-2 season.
“Everybody keeps waiting for us to have a letdown, but each week someone steps up and makes big plays,” wide receiver Hines Ward said. “Really, Jerome won the game by himself.”
Roethlisberger completed just 9 of 19 passes for 144 yards but kept his unprecedented rookie winning streak going, winning his 11th in a row in the NFL.
The Steelers’ 15th victory in 17 games against the Jets (9-4) secured the AFC North championship that has been a foregone conclusion for weeks. It also kept Pittsburgh in the lead for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.
The Jets’ offense constantly broke down amid an uncharacteristic series of penalties (12 for 84 yards, all in the first half) and other errors. Chad Pennington had three passes intercepted.
“It’s up to me to steer the ship in the right direction,” said Pennington, who hit 17 of 31 passes for 189 yards. “Only a few plays separate the 11-1 teams from the 6-5 teams. A lot of teams have come close to beating the Steelers; but to their credit, they do a good job of making sure it doesn’t happen.”
The Jets’ defense had shut out three consecutive opponents in the second half and six this season until Bettis’ throw, which broke a 3-3 tie and kept New York from being 10-3 for the first time since 1986.
Bettis’ third career touchdown pass in six attempts came on third-and-three. He rolled to his right after taking a handoff from Roethlisberger and casually tossed the ball to a wide-open Tuman, who also caught Bettis’ last scoring pass in 2001. Bettis also had a TD throw in 1999.
“I got behind the safety, and I couldn’t see him (Bettis). I could just see the ball coming,” Tuman said. “When we practiced it Friday, it didn’t look good the throw was a little low but he got it up today. We had it set up perfectly. We could hear their defense calling out (a run).”
Bettis ran for 57 yards to push his career total to 13,037, taking over after starter Duce Staley gained 51 yards. Martin had 24 carries for 72 yards to move past Bettis into fifth place with 13,046 yards in the first game in NFL history in which two backs each surpassed 13,000 yards.
Only four others have more than 13,000: Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson.
“We got together after the game, and I told him congratulations and he told me congratulations,” Martin said. “You have to appreciate consistency, and that’s what he’s done.”