Here's something new for the Jets: Their next playoff opponent actually has revenge against them.
In the first two rounds of the AFC playoffs, the Jets settled scores with victories over Indianapolis, which had knocked them out of the playoffs last season, and New England, which had embarrassed the Jets on Monday night last month. Their 28-21
upset victory over the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on Sunday qualified the Jets for the AFC Championship Game at Pittsburgh.
The Jets beat the Steelers, 22-17, at Heinz Field on Dec. 19. Quarterback Mark Sanchez threw for 170 yards in that game with no touchdowns and no turnovers, despite suffering an injury to his right (throwing) shoulder in the first quarter when he was hit by former Jet James Farrior.
Perennial Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu sat out that game because of an ankle injury, but is healthy again.
"They've got ... a player back that's a pretty important player," said wideout Braylon Edwards, referring to Polamalu. "We still feel good. ... We got a taste of victory up there. They played us hard. It was a good game, but I liked our game plan. ... We feel as though we're clicking on all cylinders and we look to only get better going into next week against a great opponent."
"That's where my mind is at already," Sanchez said when asked about the Steelers. "It's going to be in a tough environment again and it's good that we have the experience of playing there because we're going to need that."
The Jets were fortunate to get the win last month, considering safety Dwight Lowery grabbed Steelers' wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders by the jersey in the final minute, but no penalty was called. They also will have to devise a different defensive game plan than the ones they've used the last two weeks.
Unlike Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is adept at making plays on the run. The Jets will have to bring pressure at times, and if they elect to play coverage, Roethlisberger's improvisational skills could make them pay.
Veteran linebacker Jason Taylor tackled running back Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety in that game. That play was important, as it gave the Jets a five-point lead and forced the Steelers to go for a touchdown on their final drive.
Taylor's hometown is Pittsburgh, and he will be trying to get to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career.
"It's not Three Rivers Stadium," the 14th-year veteran said, "but it's still the Steelers and it's still my hometown."
And a chance to move one step closer to the ultimate NFL prize.
BY THE NUMBERS: Jerricho Cotchery tied a season-high with five receptions and had a season-high in receiving yards with 96. Although sometimes overshadowed by the more flashy Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, Cotchery is still a valuable piece of the Jets' offensive puzzle.
LINEUP WATCH: With wide receiver/kickoff returner Brad Smith (groin) out, the Jets turned to cornerback Antonio Cromartie on kickoff returns. He averaged 25.8 yards on four attempts with a long gain of 37 yards.
--QB Mark Sanchez was 16-for-25 for 194 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions, after throwing seven interceptions and only one touchdown pass in his previous two road games against New England. Sanchez is showing no ill effects from the shoulder injury suffered last month, and seems to have recovered.
--K Nick Folk missed his only field-goal attempt, a 30-yarder that he barely hooked left. That snapped a streak of nine consecutive makes, including post-season, and Heinz Field can be a very tough place to kick.
--RB Shonn Greene had 76 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Just as he did last season, Greene is coming on strong during the playoffs.
--DE Shaun Ellis had two sacks. Ellis is the longest-tenured Jet, in his 11th season with the team, and doesn't have a contract for next season at this point.
--LB/DE Vernon Gholston was inactive for the second consecutive game, and it seems the underachieving first-round draft pick of 2008 may not be in the Jets' future plans. It is telling that the Jets have deactivated him for the must-win world of the playoffs.