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mesaSteeler
12-20-2010, 05:54 AM
Steelers Notebook: Backups miss on chances for big plays
Monday, December 20, 2010
By Ray Fittipaldo, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/10354/1112173-66.stm

The Steelers were without two of their best players Sunday against the Jets. Safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller were out because of injuries.

Their backups played solid football but both were kicking themselves for not making big plays in the fourth quarter that could have turned the game in the Steelers' favor.

Matt Spaeth replaced Miller and caught three passes for 27 yards and a touchdown, but a pass in the back of the end zone with two seconds remaining hit his hands and fell incomplete. On the final play of the game, Spaeth once again had a chance to make the winning catch, but Ben Roethlisberger's pass deflected off of his body and fell out of bounds.

"I thought I played a real good game, a solid game," Spaeth said. "Unfortunately, at the end, I couldn't make the big play. I couldn't be the hero."

Spaeth, a fourth-year player from the University of Minnesota, thought he had a better chance of catching the first throw which, Roethlisberger said, was intended for Emmanuel Sanders.

"I'm going to bounce back from this," Spaeth said. "Obviously, I'm very disappointed. I feel like I let a lot of people down."

Ryan Mundy, a third-year pro from West Virginia and Woodland Hills High School, made his first career start in place of Polamalu. Mundy had one solo tackle, three assists and one pass defended, but he missed on a possible sack when he came free off the edge midway through the fourth quarter on a key third-down play. That missed tackle led to a Mark Sanchez completion to Braylon Edwards, and the Jets kicked the go-ahead field goal later in the drive.

"I came in a little out of control," Mundy said. "I probably should have gathered myself a little better. He stepped up in the pocket and made the play."
Not so special

Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown 12 seconds into the game. It was the first kickoff return for a touchdown against the Steelers since Kansas City's Jamaal Charles returned one 97 yards Nov. 22, 2009.

Mundy was the final Steelers player between Smith and the end zone, and he could only get a hand on Smith's backside as raced into the clear.

"I didn't see the picture, but it felt like a gaping hole, like the red sea parted," Mundy said. "I was running toward him. I was anticipating him cutting back to me, but he just kept running outside. We just have to take a look at it. Our kickoff team has been rock-solid all year. It's just unfortunate those 7 points helped them win this game."

Special teams ace Anthony Madison said the Jets did a superior job of blocking the return for the score.

"They made a good play," he said. "They did a good job of executing blocks. They got a hat on a hat. They did it at a high level. We pride ourselves in that area of the game. Their guys made plays. On that particular play we didn't, and it cost us 7 points."

It was Smith's second kickoff return for a touchdown this season. He also scored against the Bengals. He said the Jets detected a weakness in the Steelers' kick coverage.

"All week we saw the way they covered things, what we had in place, and we knew we could get something," he said. "I didn't think it would be the first play, though."

Smith plays something of a slash role for the Jets. A spread-option quarterback in college at Missouri, he is third on the Jets in rushing with 221 yards on 31 carries and has caught four passes this season for 44 yards.

"If Brad Smith doesn't make the Pro Bowl, something's wrong," Jets coach Rex Ryan said of his return man. "Shoot, I wanted to start the game on defense anyway, so that's the way we did it."
Kapinos struggles

The kickoff-return unit was not the only special-teams unit to struggle. Punter Jeremy Kapinos had his share of trouble as well.

The Steelers decided to punt twice in Jets territory in the first half but Kapinos, signed recently to replace the injured Daniel Sepulveda, failed to pin the Jets on each occasion. On the first punt from the Jets' 45, Kapinos' punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback. On the second from the Jets' 34, his punt was fielded at the 9 by Jerricho Cotchery and returned to the 22.

Kapinos punted four times for a net average of 25 yards.

Meanwhile, Jets punter Steve Weatherford put on a clinic, pinning the Steelers inside their own 10 three times.

His best punt was downed at the Steelers' 2 with 2:45 left in the game. On the Steelers' first play on the ensuing drive, Mewelde Moore was tackled in the end zone by defender Jason Taylor for a safety to give the Jets a 22-17 lead.

That was an important play because it forced the Steelers to go for a touchdown on their final drive, which also started inside the 10 at the 8.
Homecoming for Holmes

A smattering of boos before and after the game greeted a one-time Steelers hero when wide receiver Santonio Holmes arrived with his New York Jets teammates.

But it was Holmes and the Jets who got the last word in their 22-17 victory at Heinz Field.

"The fans called me a lot of names after the game," Holmes, the man who scored the winning touchdown for the Steelers against Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII, said. "But it's all love. I still have a lot of respect for them."

Following the game, Holmes went to midfield and did a four-square bow to every corner of the field.

"I gave them [fans] all a bow, and that was done from respect," he said.

Holmes was traded in the offseason to New York for a fifth-round draft pick. It came after several off-field incidents, including making comments on his Twitter account that embarrassed the team.

Before the game, Holmes said he had no conversations with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin or director of football operations Kevin Colbert.

"It was a business trip here," Holmes said. "I focused on that.

"I had a great time playing for the Steelers. But now I'm wearing green and white. I'm a Jet."

Holmes also was told Saturday night that he would be the team's only captain for the game.

"I want to be a leader on this team, so it [being the lone captain] was great," Holmes, who caught six passes for 40 yards Sunday, said. "I had four or five guys who wanted to go out with me, but I told them I wanted to go out by myself. They could see the fire in my eyes. That made me feel great."
Another homecoming

Former Pitt star and Aliquippa High graduate Darrelle Revis also returned to Heinz Field for the first time since his collegiate days.

And while the Pro Bowl cornerback didn't intercept any passes, he had to come up with several passes -- for friends and family to attend the game.

"It was great to be back," he said. "I was hoping to get a win here in my hometown. I got 30 tickets for friends and family. I probably had 100 people ask, but I'm paying for them ..."

Revis also commented on the recent decision by Pitt to relieve his college coach, Dave Wannstedt, from his coaching duties.

"I was surprised by the decision the university made," he said. "[The] guy is a good guy. He's got class and does stuff in the community. And he's a good coach."
Personal best

Running back Rashard Mendenhall set a personal best for season rushing yards against the Jets. Mendenhall, who rushed for 100 yards on 17 carries, has 1,173 yards through 14 games. He rushed for 1,108 in 16 games last season.
Wallace goes over 1,000

Second-year receiver Mike Wallace went over 1,000 yards receiving for the first time in his career. Wallace, who had 756 receiving yards as a rookie, has 1,048 yards through 14 games. He had seven receptions for 102 yards against the Jets.
Third downs key

The Steelers converted 11 of their 17 third-down attempts. They converted four third downs on their 96-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, including a 9-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Spaeth on third-and-4.

The Jets were 6 for 13 on their third-down conversions. Three of those came on their go-ahead field-goal drive in the fourth quarter. They picked up another on their next drive, which helped bleed the clock before they punted.

"It was disappointing," linebacker James Farrior said. "We pride ourselves in making those plays."
Jets get off schneid

The Jets' offense scored a touchdown for the first time in 12 quarters when Sanchez ran 7 yards for a touchdown on fourth-and-1 with 5:14 remaining in the third quarter. The Jets had gone without an offensive touchdown in losses to the Patriots and Dolphins.

"I think we just bounce back really well and coach [Brian] Schottenheimer called a great game," Sanchez said. "The most important thing is we executed the game plan really well, up front especially. I didn't get a ton of pressure, and when I did, I got ride of the ball. The running game really took off and did well."

Sanchez was 19 for 29 for 170 yards and did not throw an interception. The Jets rushed for 106 yards, including 49 on 11 carries from LaDanian Tomlinson.
Suisham still perfect

Place-kicker Shaun Suisham made his only field-goal attempt of the game, a 42-yarder just before halftime. He is 10 for 10 for the Steelers since replacing Jeff Reed and is 7 for 7 between 40 and 49 yards.
Jerry Micco contributed to this report. Ray Fittipaldo: rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.


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