By WILL GRAVES
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
PITTSBURGH – It wasn’t, Mike Tomlin allows, like winning the lottery.
Then again, to hit the lottery, all you need is a little luck. The Pittsburgh Steelers coach knows his team removed chance from the equation during a solid if not spectacular 19-6 dismantling of the New York Jets on Sunday.
For 60 minutes, the Steelers took care of the ball when they had it and took it away from the Jets when they didn’t. They protected Ben Roethlisberger and got after New York quarterback Geno Smith. It wasn’t rocket science. It a blueprint that’s worked since the first football was snapped.
“The defense got turnovers finally and our offense didn’t have them,” defensive end Brett Keisel said. “That’s a winning formula.”
One the Steelers found elusive during a miserable opening month when they got off to the franchise’s worst start in 45 years. It’s one that came sharply back into focus against the erratic Jets.
The difference wasn’t the gameplan but the execution. When given an opportunity to make one of the “splash plays” that was missing through the first four weeks, Pittsburgh made them.
Ryan Clark picked off Smith to snuff out one New York drive, the first turnover created by the Steelers in 287 days. Lawrence Timmons sealed Pittsburgh’s first victory of any variety in nearly 10 months with an interception of his own in the fourth quarter.
Clark joked he wasn’t sure if he was happier to grab his 14th career interception or simply end a drought that pushed the Steelers to the brink of NFL history. No team had ever gone through its first five games without creating at least one turnover. Pittsburgh sidestepped that ignominious distinction by pushing around New York and giving the locker room hope that all is not lost.
The Steelers (1-4) are 2 1⁄2 games behind first-place Cincinnati but can start to make inroads on the rest of the division this week when they host rival Baltimore (3-3) on Sunday.
“We’re not going to give up,” Keisel said. “We’re not going to quit. Obviously, it wasn’t the start we wanted, but the men in this locker room believe that there’s a chance that something great can come out of this if we all work towards it.”
It’s far too early to consider Pittsburgh back. Yet there were signs of progress after two months of backpedaling.
Roethlisberger completed 23 of 30 passes and didn’t throw it to the other team. The running game produced 61 yards in the second half, allowing the Steelers to control the game.
It was a decision Roethlisberger made in concert with offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Given a two-score lead in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger and Haley decided to ditch passing the ball in favor of trying to win the game on the ground. Considering their past history, it was football’s version of detente.
Faced with a short-yardage situation in the fourth quarter and rookie Le’Veon Bell on the sidelines, Haley sent in Jonathan Dwyer and asked the starter-turned-backup to close it out. Dwyer responded by gashing the Jets for a first down, effectively ending the competitive portion of things.
“When (Haley) called it, I was a little hesitant at first and I thought we should grind it in there because the guys have done a good job,” Roethlisberger said. “After we broke the huddle, I thought that this was a good play call and that it could be good for us.”
Playing with the lead, of course, was a luxury Roethlisberger hadn’t enjoyed much this season. Yet the Steelers were never in any real danger as the defense made life uncomfortable for the typically unflappable Smith, whose final interception resulted from a heavy rush by linebacker Jarvis Jones. The rookie hit Smith’s arm and turned his pass attempt into a balloon that Timmons easily corralled.
“We got back to running and hitting,” Clark said. “Lawrence Timmons was all over the field making big plays. That’s the Steelers’ defense.”
The key now will be to build off it. Sunday’s game begins a stretch where Pittsburgh will likely define its season.
“Hopefully it was a springboard of things to come,” Tomlin said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
By WILL GRAVES
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