AFC: A Jets-Steelers December rematch

The Jets get the tables turned on them, as it's the Steelers looking for revenge after the Jets beat them in December. The Steelers look to "right the wrongs" of that December game and have the home-field advantage in the AFC Championship for the second time in three years. Get the feeling from both AFC Championship Game camps.


NEW YORK JETS

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.

NOTES

  • 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.


    PITTSBURGH STEELERS

    For the second time in three seasons, the Steelers will play at home in the AFC Championship Game after the No. 1 seed lost.

    Pittsburgh and the New York Jets will play for only the second time in the post-season Sunday in Heinz Field, where the Jets upset the Steelers last month, 22-17.

    "We're not afraid of anybody," linebacker James Farrior said. "We'll do whatever we need to do to get to the championship."

    Before that victory Dec. 19, New York had lost all seven previous games it played in Pittsburgh since 1970, including a 20-17 overtime loss in the playoffs in the 2004 season.

    "We played the Jets the last time and it was close and it was probably a game we thought we should have had," tight end Matt Spaeth said. "We get them at home and we're looking forward to it, to kind of right our wrongs from the last time we played them."

    Pittsburgh outgained the Jets 378 yards to 276 that day, had no turnovers, converted 11-of-17 third downs and had the ball for more than 31 minutes. All that normally is recipe for a victory. However, the Jets' Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown to set the stage for New York's victory.

    The Steelers also let a 17-10 third-quarter lead slip away when the Jets scored the final 12 points on a 7-yard touchdown run by Mark Sanchez, a safety and a field goal.

    The game ended with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throwing two incomplete passes into the end zone from the New York 10.

    "It seemed like we just couldn't get that big play when we needed it," said Farrior, a former Jets' first-round draft pick who signed with the Steelers as a free agent in 2002.

    Six-time Pro-Bowl safety Troy Polamalu, who missed the Dec. 19 game against the Jets with an Achilles-related injury, has since returned to the lineup.

    "We have an opportunity to redeem ourselves," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.

    This will be the fifth AFC championship game for the Steelers in the past 10 years, their second on the road. They won two of their previous four when they went on to win the Super Bowls after the 2005 and 2008 seasons.

    "I think it says a lot," defensive end Brett Keisel said of their repeated trips to the title game. "It says a lot for the guys in our locker room, it says a lot about (director of football operations) Kevin Colbert to get the right group of guys together. I think it says a lot about coach (Mike) Tomlin the way he leads us."

    Pittsburgh has played in seven Super Bowls and won six, the most in the league.

    BY THE NUMBERS: 15 — AFC Championship Games the Steelers have reached since their first one in 1972, when they lost at home 21-17 to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins. That is more championship games than any other team since the 1970 NFL merger. The Steelers have won seven of their previous 14.

    TRENDING: 190 — Number of passes Ben Roethlisberger has thrown without an interception. His last interception came in Baltimore on Dec. 5, his fifth of the season.

    NOTES

  • CB Bryant McFadden left Saturday's game early with a hip injury and did not return. His availability for the AFC Championship Game is unknown.

  • LB James Harrison's three sacks Saturday topped his career total in the post-season. In four previous starts, he had 2.5 sacks.

  • LB LaMarr Woodley's NFL-record string of two sacks in each of his four playoff games was snapped in his fifth game but his string of sacks climbed to five games when he got one.

  • DE Brett Keisel was added to the Pro Bowl roster, the first time for him. He replaces Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney, who is injured.

  • QB Ben Roethlisberger registered his 26th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime of his career by beating Baltimore 31-24. That includes three in the post-season, his previous one to win Super Bowl XLIII.


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