Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Monday, January 24, 2011
Updated: January 25, 12:42 PM ET
Defense, not play calling doomed Jets

By Ohm Youngmisuk
ESPNNewYork.com

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- If Rex Ryan had to do it all over again, he would have had his offense try to pound in the ball from the 1-yard line instead of attempting two incomplete passes on a crucial fourth-quarter goal-line stop by the Steelers.

Of course, that would be just one of several things Ryan would change if he could turn back time.

"If we had the benefit of hindsight, we should have probably just ran Shonn Greene or [LaDainian Tomlinson] four straight times," Ryan said. "That's easy to look back on it. We clearly thought that we had some good plays designed, and it just never worked out."

Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer took some heat from critics after the Steelers' 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday for the failure to score a touchdown despite having three plays at the 1.

Trailing 24-10, the Jets had first-and-goal at the Steelers' 2-yard line with 8:39 left. The Jets ran Greene for 1 yard on first down.

Due to a malfunction with his headset, quarterback Mark Sanchez had to run to the sideline to get the next call from Schottenheimer, resulting in a rushed play. Sanchez rolled out to his right before throwing a low and incomplete pass intended for Dustin Keller.

On third-and-1, Sanchez had a quick pass batted down at the line of scrimmage. The Jets then handed off to Tomlinson on fourth down, and he was stuffed.

Two plays prior to the Jets having first-and-goal at the 2, Greene ran for 16 yards on a carry, so the Jets had some success running the ball. While they would end up getting a safety right after turning the ball over on downs, Ryan's team needed a touchdown.

The Jets' head coach steadfastly endorsed his offensive coordinator when asked whether Schottenheimer will be back next season.

"Yes, absolutely," Ryan said.

While some might have pointed the finger at Schottenheimer's play calling, the main culprit for the Jets falling short in the AFC title game for a second straight season was the defense. Ryan's baby simply did not show up in the first half. And when it came to play in the second half, it couldn't get a crucial stop at the end.

Many of the Jets couldn't explain why they were manhandled by the Steelers in a first half that saw Pittsburgh take a commanding 24-3 lead. The Steelers rushed for 135 yards and Rashard Mendenhall ran for 95 yards and a touchdown by halftime as the Jets missed numerous tackles.

The Steelers hammered the Jets on the opening drive by marching 66 yards in 15 plays in just more than nine minutes, leaving Ryan's defense gasping for air.

"Did it stun us and shock us? Yeah," Ryan said of the Steelers' overpowering opening drive. "I thought going in we had a great plan."

The Jets clamped down in the second half, holding Pittsburgh to 56 net yards and just 31 yards rushing after halftime. But when the Jets needed one stop to give Sanchez and the offense a chance for a game-winning drive, they couldn't get Ben Roethlisberger off the field.

On a second-and-9 at the Steelers' 42, Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for a 14-yard pass. Later, on a third-and-6 at the Jets' 40, Roethlisberger scrambled right before finding Antonio Brown for a game-sealing 14-yard completion.

The Jets, who had exhausted all their timeouts at that point, had gone into the game talking about "plastering" Steelers receivers when Roethlisberger scrambles. Plastering is when Jets defenders find the nearest receiver and stick to him as soon as Roethlisberger escapes the pocket.

"I just can't believe we didn't stop," Ryan said. "They made some gutsy calls [throwing the ball]. But the kid [Roethlisberger] made some great plays. He's been around a 35 quarterback rating yet helped win the game for them. It came down to Ben Roethlisberger making two huge plays against us."

One Jet wondered whether the previous week's emotional 28-21 victory over the Patriots played a part in the team's first-half struggle against the Steelers. Beating Tom Brady and the AFC's best team after eliminating Peyton Manning in the wild-card game might have had the Jets feeling a bit overconfident, as one player wondered.

Whatever it was, the Jets did not see that first drive coming when Pittsburgh punched them in the face.

"You just kind of have that feeling [early in the game] like, 'Are we ready?'" safety James Ihedigbo said. "Then the game starts and it's like we're not ready. You can't say, 'Come on, guys,' you can't say anything, you can feel it a little bit."

Linebacker Bart Scott, however, dismissed the notion of being physically and emotionally spent from beating Brady and Manning back to back.

"That had nothing to do with it," Scott said. "Whenever you have to play three games on the road, it is tough sledding. It's the playoffs, opportunity to achieve a dream, to go to a Super Bowl, at that point, that is enough juice in itself if you are drained."

Now the Jets go into a long offseason wondering and second-guessing about all the things they could have done differently. From their lackluster start to their inability to punch the ball in from 1 yard out in the fourth to Big Ben's two big first-down passes, the Jets have months to figure out why they fell short of reaching a Super Bowl again.

"This is one of those losses that you have to remember and feel yourself in it," cornerback Darrelle Revis said. "So next time you get in that situation, if you get back to the AFC Championship Game again, we can use that fuel and try to get over the hump."

"You've got to have a different mindset and you've got to be ready to play, man," Revis added of the slow start. "The passion, everything has to be there. If you come in that game flat, or not ready, [it's] going to be negative."