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Steelers Welcome Jets For Home Opener

Pittsburgh looking to avoid 0-2 beginning

September 16, 2012
By WILL GRAVES , The Associated Press

PITTSBURGH - LaMarr Woodley knew the question was coming. It always does when a team loses its first game of the season.

So when a reporter mentioned to the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker the perennial AFC contenders hadn't started a season 0-2 in a decade, Woodley pounced.

"We won't be 0-2," he said.

Joe Namath poolside in Miami this was not. Woodley wasn't boasting. He wasn't smiling either. The Steelers haven't dropped a home opener under coach Mike Tomlin and Sunday's opponent, the New York Jets (1-0), have won just once in Pittsburgh.

Though history is on the Steelers' side, momentum is not.

Pittsburgh's usually swarming defense looked a step slow in the second half of a 31-19 loss in Denver last week, allowing Peyton Manning to look like, well, Peyton Manning as the four-time MVP torched the Steelers for 253 passing yards and two touchdowns in his return from a nearly two-year layoff.

The Jets, meanwhile, took off following an underwhelming preseason. New York (1-0) lit up the mistake-prone Buffalo Bills in a 48-28 rout, the kind of stunning debut that made a listless exhibition season in which the first-team offense failed to reach the end zone seem long forgotten.

"I guess we were due to score," coach Rex Ryan said with a laugh.

More like overdue.

Still, the Jets know things will be considerably tougher in Pittsburgh. Their last visit to Heinz Field ended with a bitter 24-19 loss in the 2010 AFC championship game. New York was never in it, falling behind 24-0 in the second quarter before a late rally fell short.

The always brash Ryan, however, felt so emboldened by his team's second-half performance he guaranteed the Jets would take the next step in 2011 and go all the way to the Super Bowl. It never happened, as New York stumbled down the stretch to an 8-8 finish, a result the recently slimmed-down coach put on his not-quite-so-broad shoulders.

"I thought we played tight, I think (the guarantee) had a lot to do with it," Ryan said. "It was an unnecessary burden that I put on my players, and I've learned from that."

So has his team, apparently.

Though the Jets are still experimenting with how to use new acquisition Tim Tebow, starter Mark Sanchez appeared energized against Buffalo, tossing three touchdowns after an early interception as New York looked like a team ready to make another run at New England's supremacy in the AFC East. The defense also forced four turnovers despite losing All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis to a mild concussion, and Revis has been ruled out by the Jets this Sunday.

The Steelers are dealing with injury issues of their own. Pittsburgh's defense didn't quite look like its typically tenacious self while Manning picked it apart in the second half, and could be without star linebacker James Harrison and All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu.

Neither Harrison, who is dealing with a balky left knee, nor Polamalu, who is nursing a strained right calf, practiced this week.

Pittsburgh will have safety Ryan Clark back in the lineup. Clark sat out the Denver game as a precaution due to a sickle cell trait that makes it dangerous for him to play at high elevation.

Tomlin said Clark's presence will help with communication and leadership, two things the Steelers were in need of against the Broncos.

Even Polamalu acknowledged taking a couple of calculated risks that didn't pay off, one of which turned into a 71-yard touchdown pass from Manning to Demaryius Thomas. There's a certain comfort level Polamalu has with Clark that is difficult to replicate. Clark's return should give Polamalu if he plays a little more freedom to roam, hopefully helping the Steelers put some teeth into a pass rush that failed to get to Manning during crucial moments in the opener.

"(Polamalu) is a playmaker, he's all over the field and he can cause havoc for their defense and their team," said New York wide receiver Santonio Holmes. "But our job is to outsmart these guys."

Not exactly an easy task against one of the NFL's most complex defenses and a team that has just four players on the roster backup quarterback Charlie Batch, defensive linemen Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel and linebacker Larry Foote who know what it's like to start the season 0-2 in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers recovered in 2002 to finish 10-5-1 and make it to the divisional round of the playoffs. Still, it's a hole they'd rather not dig themselves, particularly with the way rival Baltimore looked while overwhelming Cincinnati in its opener. The schedule isn't exactly friendly either, with three of Pittsburgh's next four on the road.

"We're not a losing team," wide receiver Mike Wallace said. "We don't take losing well. We have to go out there and respond because that's the way we are and that's the way we're built."

The Jets would like to think they're from the same mold and consider 2011 an anomaly and not the norm despite the sometimes circus-like atmosphere that can surround the franchise. Ryan insists his team is committed to winning despite the distractions that come with working white-hot spotlight under which it operates.

Coming through against the Steelers would have New York's actions speak louder than their coach's words. For once anyway.

"It's going to be a huge challenge for us," Ryan said.

 
 

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