WHAT IT MEANS: Mired in turmoil, the New York Jets responded with their finest effort of the season, winning in Pittsburgh for the first time in franchise history, 22-17. The Jets snapped a two-game losing streak, improved to 10-4 and greatly enhanced their playoff chances. Psychologically, this may have been their biggest win in years. With everything against them, they pulled a stunning upset.
COMPLEMENTARY FOOTBALL: This was a total team effort. The offense played turnover-free football, the defense delivered big stops in the second half and the special teams staked the Jets to a 7-0 lead on Brad Smith's game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown. The defense nearly collapsed at the end, but held firm on two end zone shots from the 10-yard line.
SANCHIZE: Mark Sanchez showed his mental toughness, emerging from a three-game slump to record his first interception-free performance in nine games. This was a tough spot for Sanchez, who was stung by Rex Ryan's admission last week that he considered pulling him in the Miami game. Sanchez did a nice job managing the game, handling the Steelers' complex pressure package. He completed 19 of 29 passes for 170 yards, scoring on a 7-yard run. Sanchez answered his critics and proved he can play well in cold weather.
THE DROUGHT IS OVER: The Jets' offense snapped a streak of 11 consecutive quarters without a touchdown, reaching the end zone on Sanchez's 7-yard bootleg on their opening possession of the second half. It had been so long that you wondered if Sanchez would have to show a passport to gain entry. It came on a fourth-and-1, a great call by embattled coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. The Jets used their jumbo package (three tight ends), with Sanchez executing a hard fake to Shonn Greene. The Steelers bit hard and Sanchez strolled into the end zone.
SCHOTT IN THE ARM: This was a clever game plan by Schottenheimer, who changed up his tendencies in short-yardage situations. He also made effective use of the two-tight end package, running and passing out of that personnel grouping. They also used a lot of hard play fakes with Sanchez, exploiting the Steelers' aggressiveness. At time, the Steelers were on their heels -- and that doesn't happen to them too often.
LEAKY RUN D: The Jets' run defense, their most consistent phase, was gashed by Rashard Mendenhall. He rushed for 100 yards, becoming only the third back to reach that mark in 33 games under Ryan. But the run defense came up big in the biggest moment, with LB Jason Taylor tackling Mewelde Moore for a safety late in the game.
THIRD-DOWN STRUGGLES: Things got so bad for the Jets' defense that it resorted to a rare play call -- a blitz by CB Darrelle Revis. Rex Ryan blitzes Revis as often as he turns away Mexican food, which is never. It was Revis' first blitz of the season, but the Jets were desperate because the Steelers converted 11 of 17 on third down. The Jets like to call third down their money down, but they couldn't generate much pressure on Ben Roethlisberger, who had time to find his second and third reads.
SHOELESS BRAD: This time, Brad Smith didn't lose a shoe, but he still made it look easy on his game-opening, 97-yard kickoff return. He was virtually untouched, benefiting from a textbook blocking scheme. Rob Turner made a key block, springing Smith for his second KOR TD of the season. This was the dream start for the Jets, and a moment of vindication for special-teams coach Mike Westhoff, who is being investigated by the league for a possible role in TripGate.
NEW-LOOK LINE: For the first time since the final game of the 2007 season, the Jets replaced a starter on the offensive line for a game. RT Damien Woody (knee surgery) is out indefinitely, so longtime backup Wayne Hunter made his first career start. It was an incredible run of durability, 45 consecutive games with no changes. It hasn't been the same starting five, as Matt Slauson replaced Alan Faneca at left guard this season, but it still was quite a run. The line, rebounding from last week's awful game, protected Sanchez well and generated early push in the running game. In essence, they used six linemen at times, deploying backup G Turner as an extra tight end on at least 15 plays. Turner played a vital role, helping Hunter in pass protection and opening holes in the running game.
HAIRY SITUATION: The Steelers played without star S Troy Polamalu (lower leg), removing a huge playmaking presence from their defense. He was replaced by Ryan Mundy, a third-year player from West Virginia.
WHAT'S AHEAD: The Jets stay on the road, facing another tough defensive team -- the Chicago Bears. The Jets haven't played in Chicago since 1997. They faced the Bears on the road in 2002, but that was in Champaign, Ill.