Steelers kick out Jets

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PITTSBURGH - The day before games, while his teammates are going over details of their responsibilities for the final time, Pittsburgh Steelers kicker Jeff Reed turns on the television.

"I live on The Weather Channel because it changes like crazy around here this time of year," Reed said.

His preparation proved worthwhile yesterday. Reed made a 33-yard field goal at the open end of a cold and somewhat blustery Heinz Field midway through the first overtime period to lift the Steelers to a 20-17 AFC divisional victory over the New York Jets.

The Steelers (16-1) will host the winner of today's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots game next Sunday for the AFC championship.

While Reed deserves credit for rescuing his team and especially rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who very much acted his age in throwing two second-half interceptions, the Steelers also need to thank Jets kicker Doug Brien, who missed two field-goal attempts late in the fourth quarter, the latter of which would have won the game from 43 yards out.

Brien, not as familiar with the tricky winds, saw his first kick bounce off the crossbar from 47 yards away, giving the Steelers the ball at their 37 with just under two minutes left.

Roethlisberger, whose cool demeanor and undefeated record as a starter (now 14-0) has given the Steelers confidence that they can buck history and indeed win the Super Bowl with a rookie quarterback, threw an interception on the next play, woefully overthrowing 6-foot-5 receiver Plaxico Burress and hitting cornerback David Barrett instead.

Barrett returned the ball 24 yards to the Steelers' 37, and quarterback Chad Pennington's screen pass to Curtis Martin was good enough to give the Jets (11-7) a much-needed first down and allow for Brien's final field-goal attempt with 4 seconds left.

At that point, the Steelers' playoff fate was out of their hands, and they looked destined to repeat the disappointments of past failures under coach Bill Cowher (three home losses in AFC title games). Perhaps, after going 15-1 this season, a loss against the Jets would have trumped them all.

"I was praying," receiver Hines Ward said of what he was doing when Brien's kick sailed wide left. "This time God was on our side."

"I tried to hit it a little harder because I was real surprised I didn't have the distance [on the first one]," said Brien, whose 28-yard kick in overtime beat the San Diego Chargers in last week's wild-card game. "The second one I missed. The first one didn't go in."

The Jets became the first NFL team to play three consecutive overtime games, including their regular season-ending loss in St. Louis. They dropped to 0-7 in Pittsburgh and 2-16 all-time against the Steelers.

The Steelers spoke of destiny afterward while the Jets were again peppered with questions on clock management.

With 56 seconds left in regulation and a first down at the Steelers' 25, the Jets could have tried to get closer, but instead, ran the ball up the middle twice and had Pennington take a knee once. Jets coach Herman Edwards' was asked about his thought process.

"We thought we could kick a field goal," Edwards said. "Doug can make those field goals, and he just missed them, and they took the ball down the field and made the winning field goal."

But not before the Jets had another opportunity and were forced to punt in overtime. The Steelers, with their quarterback struggling, then turned to their second-rated rushing attack, calling runs on the final six plays.

Running back Jerome Bettis started, but Duce Staley was the one who finished the Jets, rushing six times for 28 yards on the final drive. "I knew I had to go in and step up," said Staley, who had 54 yards on 11 carries to Bettis' 101 on 27 tries.

The Jets may have had the game within their grasp, but they would be hard-pressed to argue they deserved to win. Pittsburgh outgained the Jets 364 yards to 275, converted 53 percent of its third downs and did not allow a Jets offensive touchdown.

New York's scores came on a 75-yard punt return by Santana Moss in the second quarter and an 86-yard interception return by Reggie Tongue in the third that gave the Jets a 17-10 lead.

"That's just been the story of our season in big games," said Maryland alum LaMont Jordan, who combined with Curtis Martin (77) for 107 rushing yards. "Nothing else needs to be said."

Martin disagreed. "This is about as frustrated as I've ever been in my career," said the NFL rushing champion. "Right now I feel there is no end to my anger. ... We left our hearts out there."

The Jets never got closer than the Steelers' 23-yard line in any of their 11 possessions.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, moved the ball with relative ease - netting 23 total first downs - but self-destructed in Jets' territory. The Steelers had two possessions inside New York's 35-yard line end in a Bettis fumble and a Roethlisberger interception.

"We played uncharacteristic with a lot of turnovers," said Ward, who finished with 10 catches for 105 yards and a game-tying touchdown with six minutes left in the fourth quarter on a shovel pass. "But somehow, someway, we stayed together and found a way to win."

There will be questions, however, about the Steelers this week. Roethlisberger made uncharacteristically bad decisions. And the coverage units may be the Steelers' undoing.

But for today, at least, any questions surrounding the Steelers' suitability to be the AFC's representatives for the Super Bowl can wait. The town has a new playoff hero to celebrate, and Reed will get another week to study The Weather Channel.

"They got me in great position, not a chip shot but a mid-range field goal," he said. "Those are the ones that you have to be good at."

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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