<
>

Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers endure jolt of reality in loss to Jets

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the funhouse that is the NFL, where nothing is truly as it appears, there will be games like the New York Jets’ improbable 20-13 upset of the Pittsburgh Steelers at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Jets safety Jaiquawn Jarrett, starting against the hottest quarterback on the planet so coach Rex Ryan could send a message to rookie first-round pick Calvin Pryor, brought Ben Roethlisberger’s sublime run to a screeching halt. He twice intercepted Roethlisberger, whose final line -- 343 passing yards and a 69.8 completion percentage -- seemed so artificially inflated after the Steelers lost for the 10th time in their past 18 games against teams with a losing record.

A former second-round pick whom the Philadelphia Eagles gave up on after one season, Jarrett entered the game with no career interceptions. Roethlisberger, who had thrown 12 touchdown passes in his previous two games, had just three interceptions before Week 10. Naturally, Jarrett, who also had his first career sack and a fumble recovery, is the one who most thwarted Roethlisberger and a Steelers offense that had averaged 41.3 points in its previous three games.

But the game was less about Jarrett taking advantage of an opportunity after he impressed Ryan last week in practice and more about Roethlisberger and the Steelers blowing a golden opportunity. The Steelers had a clear path to 8-3 (assuming a win over the 2-7 Titans) and the top of the AFC North heading into their bye week. Now they are 6-4 and tied for last in the division.

“It stings,” Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger’s uneven play is the biggest reason why the Steelers’ plane ride back to Pittsburgh must have been quiet. He was off nearly the entire game, especially in the third quarter, when he inexplicably held onto the ball for an extended period after a three-step and got crushed. Earlier in the quarter, he threw his worst pass of the season.

The Steelers put together three first downs on the opening possession after halftime, building on Shaun Suisham’s 53-yard field goal as time expired in the second quarter. After reaching the Jets’ 40-yard line, Roethlisberger thought it would be a good idea to throw a pass to Markus Wheaton while the 5-foot-11, 182-pound wide receiver was triple-covered in the middle of the field. It was like trying to fit an 18-wheeler in a one-car garage.

“I just put too much air on it,” Roethlisberger said. “Bad throw on my part.”

Bad decision, too.

What made it all the more unfathomable is that Roethlisberger said the Steelers threw underneath early because the Jets (2-8) were taking away the deep throw. Never mind that the Jets started a pair of reserves at cornerback and that the Steelers, hot as they were, should have dictated how they would play offense, not the other way around.

Then again the strange strategy fit perfectly into a day that made little sense for the Steelers.

“We’ll live to fight tomorrow,” said Roethlisberger, who also implied Steelers coaches had room for improvement.

That was the best he could come up with after a startling return to reality.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin wasn’t any more expansive than Roethlisberger after his team lost the turnover battle to the Jets, who had easily been the least opportunistic team in the NFL. The Jets entered the game minus-15 in turnover differential. Yet they came up with four takeaways – Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown lost a pair of fumbles – and the Steelers didn’t force any.

“We talked all (last) week about why [the Jets] had struggled, because they were minus in the turnover ration,” Tomlin said. “Well, they weren’t today. They were plus-four. We’ll remain together. We’ll accept responsibility for what happened, but it’s nothing mystical about the outcome of that football game.”

Just another day in the funhouse.