UPDATED: 1/23/11 @ 3:44 P.M.
By Peter Schwartz
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January 1983… Dolphins 14 Jets 0
January 1999… Broncos 23 Jets 10
January 2010… Colts 30 Jets 17
Is this finally the year?
We’ll find out today as the Jets play in the AFC Championship Game for the fourth time when they take on the Steelers at Heinz Field (6:30pm, CBS2).
Winning the Super Bowl has always been the goal, but it became the mission statement when Rex Ryan was hired as head coach before the 2009 season. They fell short in last year’s AFC Title Game losing to the Colts 30-17 after leading the game at halftime.
This year, Gang Green wants to finish the job and punch their ticket to Super Bowl XLV in North Dallas.
“I want that green and white confetti coming down,” said Ryan. “We want to hold the Lamar Hunt Trophy (given to the AFC Champion). We want that to be ours. We want the (championship) hat and we want the (championship) T‑shirts. We want to experience that. We know it’s going to be one heck of a battle.”
A battle is certainly what the Jets will have on their hands against the AFC North Champion Steelers who rallied to beat the Ravens last Saturday in Pittsburgh. They are a team that the Jets beat 22-17 at Heinz Field back on December 19th.
That day, Steelers safety Troy Polamalu did not play because of an achilles injury but he is expected to suit up on Sunday.
Although the Steelers defense is tough, perhaps the Jets’ most difficult challenge will be taking care of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He is one of the more unique quarterbacks in the league in that he is not afraid to get hit and he is at his best when things get a little hairy.
“They’ve got an outstanding set offense,” said Ryan. “But they do as good a job as anybody in this league when it breaks down. First off, Roethlisberger is able to just knock people around physically, not go down, keep plays alive with his athleticism, with his strength and all that. But the receivers do a great job. They run their route and then they see Big Ben scrambling and they get open.”
Getting through the banged up Steelers offensive line is not the issue for the Jets defense. The problem is bringing Big Ben down and defending the pass when a play breaks down and he is on the move.
“With an offense like that, usually they have set plays,” said Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis who will be playing near his hometown of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania with a Super Bowl berth on the line. “They’re set plays and they have rules and routes. They might run a slant, but if Ben breaks out to the side, then they might have a rule to get to the sideline or one guy might go to the sideline, and the next guy might go deep. There are rules in their offense that they use.”
At one time, the Steelers offense used to include wide receiver Santonio Holmes who was the MVP of Super Bowl XLIII. After last season Holmes was traded to the Jets in exchange for a fifth round pick and has turned out to be a key contributor to an evolving Jets offense.
On Sunday, he returns to Pittsburgh and one would think they he would have extra motivation to win. But his motivation clearly comes from the chance to win another Vince Lombardi Trophy.
He’s already made one triumphant return to the Steel City this season.
“I think the personal game is out of the way,” said Holmes. “The personal game was (Week 15) when we played the Steelers. We got that game out of the way. I got a chance to beat those guys the first time around. This time it means everything, everything for myself, for this team, for this organization. We’re trying to get to the Super Bowl. I don’t care about the Steelers right now. Those guys are in my team’s way, which is the New York Jets. We have one goal, which is to beat those guys, and everything personal that happened (will be reflected) two or three weeks after. If we win the Super Bowl, then everything is personal. That’s a slap back in those guys’ face for trading me. Right now, it’s not even a focus of mine, and it shouldn’t be the focus of any one of my teammates or anyone in this organization.”
That was along but telling statement by Holmes who has turned out to be a terrific teammate with the Jets. Perhaps his most important fellow Jet is second year quarterback Mark Sanchez.
Remember when Derek Jeter was a rookie with the Yankees in 1996?
He became spoiled right away. The Yankees won the World Series in his rookie season and were World Champions in three of out his first four seasons. Jeter was in the post-season every year from 1996 to 2007. Then, after a one-year hiatus from the playoffs, Jeter and the Yankees won the World Series again in 2009 and made it to the ALCS in 2010.
Sanchez does not have a Super Bowl ring yet, but he has guided the Jets to the NFL’s final four in each of his first two seasons. That doesn’t normally happen in the NFL, but Sanchez is, once again, one win away from playing for a World Championship.
Getting into the playoffs and to this point is all that Sanchez knows but winning the whole thing is his goal.
“The most important thing is what’s at stake,” said Sanchez. “You never know. You dream of going to the Super Bowl every year and winning every game, that’s how you come in as a rookie. Once you understand after your first season what it’s really like and how much hard work it takes, the dedication and grind of the season just to make it to the AFC Championship Game. Then, to feel that last year losing, this year it’s like, ‘Man, we have such a great opportunity.’ We wouldn’t want to feel like that again.”
Sanchez has certainly developed a knack for winning playoff games away from home. If the Jets are victorious on Sunday, Sanchez will have five career post-season wins, the most by a starting quarterback in NFL history.
With a 4-1 record in road playoff games, Sanchez is tied with Len Dawson, Roger Staubach, and Jake Delhomme for the best winning percentage (.800) in a quarterback’s first five postseason starts on the road.
While Sanchez has made it to this point in his first two seasons, Jason Taylor will be playing in a title game for the first time in his illustrious career. Throw in the fact that the game is taking place in his hometown of Pittsburgh and you have a player who will be experiencing a special day.
“The game is big for so many reasons,” said Taylor. “It’s been a long journey to get to this point in my career. I never doubted it would happen, but I didn’t always expect it, either. Coming here to New York, this is where I expected to be and the situation that I expected to be in. Thank God it’s played out to this point, but we are not done yet.”
That’s because a victory would send them to just the second Super Bowl appearance in franchise history. That is the goal. The objective wasn’t to get revenge on Peyton Manning or to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots.
They just happened to be two teams in the Jets’ way.
The Jets have made it clear….wait a minute….Rex Ryan has made it clear that the Jets will win the Super Bowl, maybe even multiple Super Bowls. The players just buy into everything that he says.
Under his guidance, they have a second straight chance to win the AFC Title.
This time, Ryan and the Jets hope to deposit the check that they’ve been writing in the bank.
BYRD GETS A HUGE HONOR
Former Jet Dennis Byrd delivered an emotional speech to the team last Saturday night that made a lasting impression on the players. On Sunday in Pittsburgh, Byrd will serve as an honorary captain for the AFC Championship Game and will accompany the Jets’ captain to the middle of the field for the coin toss.
“It’s just fitting for him to be our (honorary) captain,” said quarterback Mark Sanchez. “I’m proud that he is. I wouldn’t want it any other way. Hearing about his story for the first time really makes you understand how fortunate we are and how fragile your career is. These moments you have on the plane, hanging around in the locker room, having fun with guys, going to eat, playing on the field, it’s pretty special. It can end at any moment. That was just a good reminder for us of how fortunate we are. His story definitely gave us inspiration last week, and it’s just fitting that he’s going to lead us out before the game.”
After Byrd sent the Jets the jersey that he wore when he got hurt, head coach Rex Ryan invited him to talk to the team. This week, Ryan and the Jets asked the league for permission to have Byrd serve as honorary captain.
“The league allows every team to have one honorary captain, and it’s great that we are going to have Dennis there,” said Ryan. “He did such a tremendous job. He spoke from the heart and that meant a lot to our players. There are so many great guys in the past, and we are proud of all of our ex-players, but Dennis is a guy we want representing us this time.”
After being away from the team for 18 years, Dennis Byrd has re-connected himself with the franchise. Nobody has won his number 90 since he was forced to retire. Byrd was a terrific player during his brief career but if you take into account his story and the fact that the Jets have an inspirational award named after him, one thing is for sure.
Someday, Byrd deserves a spot on the Jets Ring of Honor.
The Steelers lead the all-time regular season series against the Jets 15-4. Pittsburgh has won the only post-season meeting between the two teams winning 20-17 in overtime on January 15th, 2005. In that game, Jets kicker Doug Brien missed two potential game winning field goals in the fourth quarter before Jeff Reed ended the contest with a 33-yard field goal in the extra session. Hines Ward had ten catches for 105 yards in that game.
Here are some more factoids about the game courtesy of the NFL Media Relations Department…
JETS: Marks 1st time team has reached AFC Championship Game in consecutive seasons. Jets are 1st team in NFL history to win at least 2 road playoff games in back-to-back seasons…Head coach REX RYAN’s 4 playoff wins & .800 win pct. (4-1) rank 1st among Jets all-time coaches…QB MARK SANCHEZ had a 127.3 passer rating vs. NE. Sanchez now owns 2 of top 4 marks in club postseason history (also 139.4 on 1/9/10 at Cin.) & is only Jets QB w/ 100+ passer rating in multiple road playoff games (min. 15 att.)…Jets are 4-0 when posting 100+ rush yards under Ryan. Club has 6 rush TDs in past 5 playoff contests…Incl. last week (76 rush yards, 1 TD), RB SHONN GREENE has registered at least 75 rush yards with 1 TD in 3 postseason games & Jets are 3-0 in such contests.
RB LA DAINIAN TOMLINSON posted 1st postseason receiving TD (7 yards) of career vs. Patriots. Tomlinson’s 7 postseason TDs (6 rushing, 1 receiving) rank 1st among active RBs…WR SANTONIO HOLMES has won 5 consecutive postseason games, including MVP performance (9 receptions for 131 yards with game-winning TD) in Super Bowl XLIII with Steelers. Has 4 receiving TDs in 6 career playoff games. 10 of WR BRAYLON EDWARDS’ 12 career postseason rec. (83.3 pct.) have been for 1st downs. Posted 8 receptions for 100 yards in Week 15 win at Pit.
WR JERRICHO COTCHERY had 5 receptions for 96 yards vs. NE. Caught five passes for 102 yards (20.4 average) in last season’s AFC Championship Game…Defense registered 5 sacks last week, most by Jets in postseason since 1985…LB CALVIN PACE recorded sack in each of past 2 postseason games. DE SHAUN ELLIS’ two sacks last week tie Jets postseason record.
LB DAVID HARRIS led team w/ 9 tackles & registered 3rd career (1st postseason) INT vs. Patriots…Pittsburgh-native LB JASON TAYLOR recorded 4th quarter safety in reg-season game at Pit. CB DREW COLEMAN posted career-high 10 tackles, first multiple-sack game (2) & 2 FFs vs. Pit. in Week 15. Coleman & DT SIONE POUHA each recorded first career postseason sack last week…In Week 15 at Pit., KR-PR-WR BRAD SMITH totaled 140 yards on three kickoff returns (46.7 average), including a 97-yard TD.
KR-CB ANTONIO CROMARTIE averages 31.8 yards per kickoff return (191 yards on 6 kickoff returns) in 2010 postseason…Jets had 3 players selected to 2011 Pro Bowl (T D’BRICKASHAW FERGUSON, C NICK MANGOLD, CB DARELLE REVIS).
STEELERS: Host 11th Conference Championship Game, most among all teams since 1970. Clubs’ .627 postseason win pct. (32-19) ranks 1st in AFC (2nd NFL, Green Bay .628). With win, Pittsburgh can tie Cowboys for most postseason wins (33) & Super Bowl appearances (8)…MIKE TOMLIN can become 2nd head coach (JOE GIBBS) to reach 2 Super Bowls in 1st 4 seasons. Is 27-9 (incl. 3-1 in postseason) all-time at Heinz Field. Has won 4 consecutive postseason games…QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER is 38-12 (.760) at home in regular season & 4-2 at Heinz Field in postseason. Is 2-1 in AFC Championship Games & has passed for 756 yards w/ 5 TDs for 93.0 passer rating.
RB RASHARD MENDENHALL (46 rush yards, 2 rush TDs) joined JEROME BETTIS & AMOS ZEREOUE as only Steelers RBs to rush for 2 TDs in player’s 1st postseason game. Rushed for 99 yards with 1 TD vs. Jets in regular season…WR HINES WARD has 4 100-yard receiving games at home in postseason during his career. Has 19 receptions for 287 yards (71.8 per game) & 2 TDs in AFC Championship Games. Posted reception in 15 consecutive playoff games & can surpass HOFer JOHN STALLWORTH (15) for most consecutive playoff games with at least one catch. WR MIKE WALLACE had 7 catches for 102 yards (14.6 average) vs. Jets in Week 15. Averaged an AFC-best 21.0 yards per catch in 2010 reg. season.
TE HEATH MILLER has 24 receptions for 280 yards w/ 3 TDs in past 5 playoff games…Pro Bowl C MAURKICE POUNCEY became 1st Steelers rookie center to start all of his team’s games…Pit. has not allowed 100-yard rusher in 15 consecutive postseason games, tied w/ Bal. for 2nd-longest current streak (Redskins, 17). Did not allow 100-yard rusher in regular season…Steelers defense vs. Bal. allowed only 28 net yards in 2nd-half, 4th-lowest 2nd-half total in NFL postseason game since 1970…Pro Bowl LB JAMES HARRISON last week registered 3 sacks, tied for 2nd-most in franchise postseason history.
LB LA MARR WOODLEY needs 1 sack to become 10th player w/ 10 postseason sacks since 1982…CB IKE TAYLOR & Pro Bowl S TROY POLAMALU each have 3 career postseason INTs. S RYAN CLARK registered 1st postseason INT of career vs. Bal. LB JAMES FARRIOR played in three postseason games with Jets.
WHERE NUMBER ONE?
From 1980 to 2007, there was at least one top seed in the championship games. But in two of the last three post-seasons, both top seeds will be watching Championship Sunday on television.
Okay, its prediction time. I thought the Jets would be the Colts and I was right. I predicted the Jets to lose to the Patriots and I was wrong. I just can’t fathom that the Jets can beat Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, and Ben Roethlisberger all in the same post-season. I think this will be a classic playoff game, but the Jets fall just a bit short.
Steelers 24 Jets 20
That’s all for now. Enjoy the game!
What’s your prediction? Sound off in the comments below…
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