PITTSBURGH - The New York Jets were uncharacteristically quiet all week.
Not much changed once the game started. By the time they made some noise, it was simply too late.
Rex Ryan’s big-mouthed bunch was shut down and shut up in the first half by Pittsburgh on Sunday night. The Jets’ defense was dominated by Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers, 24-19.
“It’s the toughest loss I’ve ever been a part of,” linebacker Jason Taylor said.
After a loud run through the postseason that had the Jets in the AFC championship game for the second straight year, New York was silenced until a second-half comeback attempt fell short.
And it was because of a stunningly slow start that lacked the intensity of the Jets’ first two playoff victories.
“We just came out flat,” cornerback Darrelle Revis said.
Added defensive end Shaun Ellis: “They came out and out-tempoed us.”
Ryan’s aggressive defense was leaky from the beginning, allowing Pittsburgh big gain after big gain as the Steelers jumped out to a 24-0 lead, from which the Jets couldn’t fully recover.
“They made plays when they had to,” Ryan said, “and that’s why they’re moving on.”
Ryan said all season he thought his team was going to win the Super Bowl, even boldly scribbling “Soon To Be Champs” on an ESPN bus during training camp. On Friday, he reiterated that he wanted to see green-and-white confetti fall, wanted the celebratory hats and T-shirts and to raise the trophy as AFC champions.
It wasn’t to be. Again.
“Think about the worst thing that can happen to you,” center Nick Mangold said. “That’s the feeling.”
It’s two trips to the AFC championship game, and two disappointing walks off the field by Ryan and the Jets.
“I would change the outcome of this game, and that’s the only thing I would change,” Ryan said. “We don’t need to apologize to anybody. We’ll be back, you’ll see.”
And, just like that – right to the very end – Ryan ended the season the way he started it. With a bold guarantee.
But the Jets have all offseason to think about what might have been.
“There’s nothing to smile about right now,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said. “We wanted to be the one out there with the Lamar Hunt Trophy and we just weren’t – two years in a row.”
Sanchez said that his headset to communicate with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer malfunctioned multiple times in the game. That caused the quarterback to have to run back and forth to the sideline to try to get plays.
“It was just one of those things we had to keep fighting through,” Sanchez said. “Just another challenge.”
Ryan called the Jets’ first-round playoff game against Indianapolis “personal” against Peyton Manning, and the defense bottled up the Colts’ Pro Bowl quarterback.
The next week, Ryan said it was between him and the Patriots’ Bill Belichick, declaring he needed to outcoach his counterpart. Cornerback Antonio Cromartie fired things up by calling Tom Brady an expletive, and the trash talk escalated from there.
The Jets backed up all the big talk by stunning the Patriots 28-21. But things took a silent turn last week when Ryan heaped praise on Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, using words such as “respect” and “like,” and his players followed suit.
Turns out, the Jets might have needed to keep that mean streak going.
From the start on Sunday, the Jets couldn’t get the Steelers’ offense off the field. Missed tackles, bad decisions and sub-par performances put New York in a 24-3 halftime hole.
New York’s defense had a solid second half, keeping the Steelers off the scoreboard, and Sanchez threw a TD pass to cut the deficit to 24-19 with 3:06 remaining.
The Jets needed to make one more stand but couldn’t keep the Steelers from running out the clock.
“There’s no tomorrow,” defensive tackle Sione Pouha said, almost whispering. “We’re going home.”