Thursday, January 20, 2011 Updated: January 22, 10:13 AM ET
Jets have passion to spare for Steelers
By Rich Cimini ESPNNewYork.com
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Most ridiculous premise of the week: The New York Jets played their Super Bowl in New England and will have trouble recreating that intensity Sunday for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The only way to respond to that notion is to quote that famous philosopher and occasional pass-catcher, Chad Ochocinco: Child, please.
Will Braylon Edwards remain a Jet? We might have to wait quite awhile to find out.
If the Jets lose the AFC Championship Game, it won't be because of a letdown. Passion is passion, whether it's born of animosity and redemption (last week's potent cocktail) or raw ambition, the chance to make history.
The Jets have gone 42 years without a Super Bowl appearance, and now they get a chance to finish what they couldn't complete last January in Indianapolis and 1999, in Denver and 1983, in the Miami mud.
"It's time for us to get over the hump," loudmouth linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's time for the New York Jets to get their happy ending."
It's hardware time, as Rex Ryan told his players the other day. That they face the franchise with the most hardware in NFL history -- six Super Bowl championships -- heightens the drama.
Last week was about proving a point. This week is all about creating a legacy.
Five Things To Watch
1. Mark Sanchez vs. Troy Polamalu: Sanchez didn't have to face the Steelers' all-world safety in the first meeting -- he was injured -- and that made a huge difference. The Steelers weren't able to run some of their pressure packages, making it easier for Sanchez to make pre-snap reads. That won't be the case this time. Polamalu covers better than most HMOs; the Steelers are 22-3 when he has an interception.
2. Big Ben's Fake: It's deadly. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger is so strong he can pump-fake with his left hand off the ball, making defenders look silly. In the previous meeting, Antonio Cromartie got pump-faked on a corner blitz and left his feet, allowing Big Ben to complete his pass. It goes against human nature, but the Jets' defenders have been told not to accelerate into Roethlisberger when pursuing. They've been taught to downshift. This way, they won't over-commit.
3. Better Run D: The Jets allowed a season-high 146 yards in the previous meeting, but they didn't have S Eric Smith and DT Trevor Pryce, and NT Sione Pouha played with a cast on a badly lacerated hand. They're all healthy now, and that means the run defense should be sound. Smith has a tough assignment in pass coverage -- TE Heath Miller, who missed the last meeting with an injury.
4. "Plaster" Coverage: It's hard to cover the Steelers' receivers when Roethlisberger breaks out of the pocket, so the Jets will employ the "plaster" technique: In a zone, the defenders are taught to find the open guy in his zone and stick to him like well, plaster. If two receivers are open, they're told to take the deeper player. In man-to-man situations, look for Darrelle Revis on Hines Ward and Cromartie on vertical threat Mike Wallace.
5. Spread 'Em: The Jets want the Steelers' linebackers to play in space, so you may see the Jets employ spread formations. That also could make it easier for Sanchez to read the defense and find favorable matchups. You could see two tight ends in the spread, with one in motion to help capture the edge for outside runs. That approach worked effectively in the first meeting. At all costs, the Jets must avoid third-and-long situations -- potential disaster against a turnover-minded defense like Pittsburgh.
-- Rich Cimini
"This game, it's colossal," said Joe Namath, who provided the Jets' last true moment of glory, flashing that iconic "We're No. 1!" after winning Super Bowl III in Miami in 1969.
Ryan -- who got in trouble with a different kind of No. 1 gesture last January in Miami -- will have his team emotionally stoked for the Steelers. For the 33 players who dressed for last season's conference championship, it'll be easy.
Hurt is a great motivator, and there was a lot of hurt that day in Peyton Manning's living room. Several players said the one image they can't shake -- the snapshot that continues to haunt them -- is that of the blue and white confetti falling from the roof at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The way they recounted the memory, you'd think they got pelted by bird droppings.
"To not only see it but to have it fall on your face, it's an awful feeling," nose tackle Sione Pouha said. "Dude, I can remember it like it was yesterday. More fuel on the fire."
Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery said: "When that irritating confetti is falling on you and you're walking off the field as a loser, that's not a good feeling."
Some players cried that day -- they sure did. For the 33 holdovers, they're not happy just to be in the championship game again. It's about winning, taking the next step.
The Jets are the hungrier team. The Steelers won it all two years ago, and their key players -- Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu et al -- all have Super Bowl rings.
Not LaDainian Tomlinson, an all-time great. He wants a Super Bowl so badly that he sat out the meaningless regular-season finale, passing up the chance to hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the ninth time in his career, so he could rest up for the postseason.
"I really can't put it into words, but I can definitely imagine the feeling," he said.
Not Jason Taylor, another future Hall of Famer. He made the ultimate sacrifice for a shot at a ring, signing with a team he had openly despised as a member of the Miami Dolphins. This could be his last shot.
"I've never been to this point, and 14 years to get to where we are today is a long time," he said. "You want the ring. All the other things are great, and the Pro Bowls, and all that crap is fine, but if you're not winning and getting a chance to be a champion, it's not worth it."
Not Shaun Ellis, who has suffered more in a Jets uniform than any player on the team. He's the longest-tenured Jet -- "the last man standing" from the loaded draft class of 2000, as former teammate Chad Pennington called him. Ellis turned into Deacon Jones last week, seizing the moment.
Not Tony Richardson, 39, whose classy 16-year career probably will end when the Jets lose or win the Super Bowl.
Only two players on the Jets' active roster know what it's like to win a Super Bowl: former Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, who won two rings with the Denver Broncos. Pryce said the Jets' roster includes "old guys and castaways," a motley crew bonded by one goal: a championship.
It's not going to be easy. The Jets haven't faced a defense as good as this one, and they haven't faced a quarterback in the postseason that can do as many things as Roethlisberger can. Unlike the Patriots and Colts, the Steelers will punch back. The Jets will have to be better than they were in last month's 22-17 win over the Steelers because, let's be honest, they were outplayed.
"Win every play; that's our goal," Cotchery said.
Make no mistake, the Jets will have their edge. Sharpening it will be easy. It's hardware time.