October 9, 2016
The Steelers’ Sammie Coates beat Jets cornerback Marcus Williams for a 72-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter. Williams was starting in place of Darrelle Revis. (Jared Wickerham/Associated Press)
PITTSBURGH — Well, at least now we know Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the only problem.
So the Jets have got that going for them as they analyze what has become a season on the brink at 1-4 and in free fall.
The Jets’ previous two losses entering Sunday’s game against the Steelers at Heinz Field were all about their quarterback’s inability to throw the football to the right jerseys. The nine interceptions Fitzpatrick threw — six in a road loss to the Chiefs and another three against the Seahawks last Sunday at home — made for an easy landing spot for blame.
It became simple to blame it all on Fitz, whose reputation for throwing it to the other guys preceded him when he became a Jet and delivered his career year last season.
The Jets’ 31-13 loss to the Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, however, had much less to do with Fitzpatrick’s flaws than it did with everyone around him, beginning with coach Todd Bowles, who coached his worst game as a Jet, and including a vastly underachieving defense.
Fitzpatrick, who completed 25 of 38 for 255 yards and a touchdown and no turnovers, was not the Jets problem on this day.
Bowles inexplicably opting not to go for a first down on fourth-and-2 from near midfield with 7:36 remaining in the game while down 24-13 was indefensible. So, too, was the lack of a pass rush by a Jets’ defensive front that has been showered with more praise than Joe Montana in his prime. According to ESPN stats, of the 48 times Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass, he endured pressure only four times.
That’s unacceptable and the very reason Roethlisberger torched the Jets for 380 passing yards and four touchdown passes.
A pathetic, no-show performance on the part of the defensive line led by Muhammad Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson, left the Steelers quarterback far too comfortable.
On the 5-yard touchdown pass he threw to Antonio Brown to give the Steelers a 24-13 lead, Roethlisberger had enough time standing in the pocket to make each one of the his offensive linemen the sandwich named after him called the “Roethlis-burger.’’
Later, there was little in the way of accountability coming from Wilkerson, who signed an $86 million contract that pocketed him $36 million in guarantees in the offseason, or Richardson. Both were at their surly worst in the postgame locker room.
“They made more plays than us,’’ Wilkerson kept repeating, even if someone had asked him what color the locker-room walls were or about the weather outside.
Richardson, sadly following the lead of Wilkerson, kept repeating, “We’re preparing for Arizona.’’
Fitzpatrick called the predicament “a hard situation to be in,’’ and he added, “It takes a mature group of guys to overcome it, and I think we have the right people in our locker room — players and coaches included — to be able to put something together and make it a special season still.’’
Considering how badly turnovers had killed the Jets in the previous two games, it should have been shocking to them to play turnover-free and still lose by 18 points. It also has to be demoralizing.
“This was a stretch we knew was going to be hard,’’ receiver Brandon Marshall said. “It was going to be a great challenge for us to see if we can play with everyone. And the only thing we’ve proved is that we can play with these guys … but we can’t beat them. We’ve been in position, but we need to finish.’’
Yes, the Jets were in position, but this game always had the feel that the Steelers could — and eventually would — pull away whenever they decided to press the accelerator. The game always felt like it was a play or two away from slipping away from the Jets.
“There have been plenty of teams that have been in this situation and still come out on the other end exactly where they wanted to be,’’ Marshall said.
The numbers, however, tell a different story. Since the current playoff format was constructed in 1990, only 6 percent of the teams that lost four of their first five games have qualified for the playoffs.
“I’m more than confident that we will turn this thing around,’’ Marshall said. “The story will be sweet if … when … we turn this thing around.’’