PITTSBURGH - No matter the scheme that the Jets attempted to implement against the Steelers in the AFC title game Sunday night, one thing remained true in the opening half. "I just think we never tackled," Rex Ryan said.
Few calls stopped the Steelers in the first half of the Jets' 24-19 loss. Tailback Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 95 yards. Steeler tailbacks, wideouts and tight ends fought off tacklers to get into the secondary, forcing Darrelle Revis and Eric Smith into run-stopping responsibilities. It took an interception by safety Brodney Pool and sacks by Calvin Pace and Trevor Pryce in the third quarter to make the second half a game.
"You can't win in this league if you don't stop the run," Pryce said. "Kid (Mendenhall) was running out of his body."
Ryan and coordinator Mike Pettine, a package deal since Pettine joined the Ravens as the assistant defensive line coach to Ryan in 2002, molded the Jets into the league's third-ranked defense, at turns deferring to the other while showing differing looks. In the playoffs, Ryan became more pro-active in making final decisions, allowing their differences to dissipate under clouds of smoke from victory cigars.
They met their limit, though, against the Steelers.
Their complementary approach collected wins in playoff matches against two of the league's elite quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but Ben Roethlisberger and Mendenhall were different, cobbling together a clock-eating approach that efficiently moved the ball. Roethlisberger's biggest slip, a fumble in his end zone, resulted in a safety, giving the Jets new life after a goal-line stand by the Steeler defense.
"It's difficult. We believe in every single guy on the coaching staff," Antonio Cromartie said. "We buy into everything ... but we ran out of time."
The exchanges between Ryan, on the sideline, and Pettine, above the field in the booth, are carried over cable wire and often contain colorful language on both ends. "If anybody ever recorded us on the headsets, we'd have our own reality show," Pettine said last week. "People say we're like brothers on the headset, and we've been approached after the game and they're like, 'Hey, are you and Rex OK?'"
When Pittsburgh wideout Antonio Brown caught a first-down pass on the first play after the two-minute warning, Ryan slammed his headset to the ground. Their game plan in the AFC title game was not good enough again.
"We didn't tackle," safety Eric Smith said. "It was just bad football."