The Pittsburgh Steelers came to MetLife Stadium on Sunday as one of four winless teams in the NFL, and as the league’s only team without a takeaway.
They left as the fourth NFL team to win 600 games (including the postseason) and with a pair of takeaways secured a 19-6 road win over the New York Jets (3-3), who were blanked after halftime.
That’s life in the six-week-old Geno Smith era for New York.
One week, Smith will look brutal, such as in his team’s a blowout loss in Tennessee. The next, he might surprise the nation, the way he did with some very solid play and leading a game-winning drive on Monday Night Football in Atlanta.
Against Pittsburgh, the pendulum swung back the other away again, with Smith going 19 of 34 for 201 yards, with three sacks and two very costly red zone interceptions in the second half.
Although the Jets ran only four few fewer plays, they held the ball for over 11½ minutes less than the Steelers while netting just 267 total yards.
After punting three times on five first-half possessions, New York did the same on four second-half drives to complement the two other possessions that ended with Smith interceptions.
Taking over at the Steelers 45-yard line following a punt and a 10-yard return, Smith completed all three of his passes on the Jets’ second possession and took them as far as the Pittsburgh 2-yard line before New York settled for a 3-0 late first-quarter lead on a 25-yard field goal by kicker Nick Folk.
The Steelers answered with drives of 10, nine and eight plays on their next three possessions — each ending with field goals by kicker Shuan Suisham — to lead 9-3, while at one, point Smith missed on a long pass down the middle to wide receiver Stephen Hill (three catches, 46 yards), who might have scored on a 77-yard touchdown catch had he not been slightly overthrown, with the Jets down 6-3.
On New York’s final drive of the half though, Smith completed three straight short passes before connecting with Hill on a 20-yard pass up the right sideline that set Folk up for a 39-yard kick that drew the Jets to within 9-6 just before halftime.
Following a New York three-and-out to start the second half, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (23-for-30, 264 yards, one touchdown, three sacks) threw a 55-yard touchdown strike to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (three catches, 70 yards, one touchdown) to extend Pittsburgh’s lead to 16-6.
Smith fumbled on the next play, but recovered, and then took the Jets 52 yards, to the Steelers’ 23-yard line, but he threw into triple coverage on first down, as safety Ryan Clark (team-high eight tackles, two pass deflections, one interception) came down with the ball for his team’s first forced turnover of the season.
Two Steelers drives later, Pittsburgh went 65 yards on 12 plays, spanning the third and fourth quarters, to push its lead to 19-6 on Suisham’s fourth field goal, from 32 yards.
A couple of Jets punts later, New York moved 54 yards to the Steelers’ 12-yard line, but under pressure, Smith was hit and threw a wobbly ball that resulted in another first-down interception with 2:59 left.
During a year in which the general consensus was that of the Jets winning no more than four or five games all season, the thought of reaching four wins after just six weeks would have had Gang Green fans suddenly raising expectations.
But after getting shutdown at home by previously winless Pittsburgh, New York’s prospects could soon become a lot more in line with its earlier, popular season prognosis — especially as the Jets enter a tough six-game stretch that begins with a home game against first-place New England next week, and which includes other home contests against New Orleans and Miami, as well as road trips to Cincinnati, Buffalo and Baltimore.