My thoughts, for what they're worth

Well, that didn't exactly go as planned. How many things must have gone wrong for a team that looked like one of the conference's powerhouses to lose to a team with just one win against the doormat Dolphins? Enough, apparently.

It's a bad sign when Aaron Smith whiffs on a tackle on the first play from scrimmage. I've seen Smith tackle running backs with pretty much just his fingers, but Thomas Jones ran through a full arm-and-shoulder job at the line and scampered on for a first down gallop. Between that and a poor decision to shove Kellen Clemens well after the throw, one of Pittsburgh's steadiest defensive players had a rockier game than I can remember in quite a while.

- The roughing the passer penalty against Smith came on an incompletion on third-and-fifteen. The drive didn't result in any points for the Jets, and Pittsburgh managed a field goal on the subsequent drive, so the ultimate impact proved negligible. Still, that's an awful situation for such a penalty, and highlighted how consistently the defense made the wrong plays at the wrong times, or failed to make the right plays at the right times.

- Continuing in that theme, after notching his first sack in what has been a successful season in every non-statistical way, Brett Keisel forced a huge fumble through the end zone for what should have been a touchback, and Pittsburgh's ball, only to see it wiped out by a holding penalty by Clark Haggans. That could have been the James Harrison-stripping-Jamal Lewis moment of turnabout for the Steelers; instead, the three points New York put on the board made all the difference in an overtime game.

- If I'd made odds to start the season as to which opponent back stood the best chance to break Pittsburgh's streak against allowing 100-yard rushers, Jones would have fallen somewhere after Frank Gore, Edgerrin James, Marshawn Lynch, Shaun Alexander, Rudi Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Fred Taylor, Steven Jackson, Laurence Maroney, Travis Henry, and probably any other random back on Denver's roster.

- I haven't seen that many missed tackles by a Steelers defense since 2003. I won't say that they're usually a great tackling team, but they're at least a pretty good tackling team, and had they wrapped up at just their average level, I don't know that New York could have scored more than the seven points from their opening drive.

- Heath Miller, ordinarily a strong pass protector to go along with his terrific run blocking, didn't put his best foot forward in that regard on Sunday. Still, he continues to show why he's a core member of the current and future Pittsburgh offense. Andre Dyson and Darrelle Revis both tried to jam him coming off the line on Pittsburgh's first third down, but Miller absolutely destroyed Dyson, the second of the two to try, en route to a 17-yard conversion.

- Revis may still be acclimating himself to the pro game, but he's coming around, and shows the skills to grow into what the Jets drafted him to be. Between him and David Harris, the Jets may have found two big-time defensive players around which to build for the future.

- It's not like Ben Roethlisberger had a bad game, by conventional standards, and his stat line of 15 for 25 for 195 yards, one score, and one interception hints at an acceptably-solid performance. He wasn't enough of a Superman, though, to carry the team on this day, and most notably didn't make the third down plays that have propelled the offense from mediocre to excellent for most of the season.

- Sometimes, the receivers couldn't get open. Sometimes, they got open but couldn't secure the ball. Sometimes, they got open but the pass was a little off-target, or the line couldn't quite hold the protection, or the defenders just covered too well. For a team that relies so heavily on the third-down passing game, when enough of those factors occur consistently enough and spread-out enough to impact a large number of plays, the offense is going to struggle.

- The offensive line showed its warts, maybe more notably in its inability to open holes for Willie Parker than in what by now should be expected lackluster pass protection… but no more so than it has almost all season long. Quite a few of New York's seven sacks came on well-executed blitzes or as a result of coverage. In the sense that Pittsburgh has been winning games all year despite the line, they played "well enough to win." Really, every unit on the team played "well enough to win," but unlike past weeks, no unit or player stepped up to make the plays to actually make the win happen.

- No one played exceptionally enough to pull out a win, but a lot of guys made enough bonehead plays to lose. Ike Taylor played to his usual strong level for almost the entire game—it seems to me that Anthony Smith's bite on the flea-flicker was the bigger problem than Taylor's—but drew a long pass interference flag when his athleticism probably should have allowed him to play the ball without jumping through the receiver. Troy Polamalu played a solid game, until he overran a short pass play toward the end, when they really needed a stop. The league's best defense settled down after the opening drive to mostly stifle the Jets, until they allowed a rookie quarterback to march his offense 86 yards for the tying field goal in two minutes at the end of regulation. The special teams coverage units did a fine job keeping Leon Washington from being a factor, until the time when poor coverage meant losing the game. All the way around, just enough to lose.

- Oh, and Daniel Sepulveda, you can't botch punts in overtime. You just can't.

- Parker's rushing splits for the season show that he's averaging better yardage the farther out from center he runs: 2.9 yards per carry up the middle, 3.9 YPC to the right or left side, and 6.4 YPC to the sidelines. Only 30 of his 233 carries, though, have targeted the sidelines. Fast Willie can run with decent power, and can hit holes up the middle when they're there to be hit, but at times it feels like the coaches are too intent on establishing the inside running game, and forget that he can beat a lot of defenders to the edge.

- In a week with few positives worth mentioning, take a minute to recognize how reliable Jeff Reed has been kicking field goals this season. He hasn't been tested by a whole lot of long ones, but his consistency has been pretty remarkable.

- So, Pittsburgh's reign as the AFC's second seed proved to be pretty short-lived. Not only did they lose ground against a suddenly-vulnerable Colts team, the loss also breathed life back into Cleveland's division hopes. The Steelers still sit a game up on their rivals, and hold the big tie-breaker chip in reserve, but with New England looming on Pittsburgh's schedule, the Browns must now feel themselves just a hot streak and another Pittsburgh falter—and if the can lose to the Jets, they can lose to just about anybody on the road—away from the prize.

- On the other hand, two convincing wins against two extremely beatable teams would go a long way toward ramping up for the showdown in Foxboro. That's what's behind Door B. I'll think I'll take that one, please.

Steel City Insider Top Stories