It was early in the second quarter of the game between the Steelers and NY Jets when it appeared that the Devlin Hodges era had reached its inglorious end following his second interception of the first half, a “duck” near the pylon putting the kibosh on a promising Steelers drive. That pick took points off the board. The next possession Mason Rudolph found himself back under center running what’s left of the offense.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. With Mason Rudolph forced out with an injury as the fourth quarter began, it would again come down to the undrafted quarterback out of Samford.
This time there was no magic, as the offense was unable to do much of anything at all without Rudolph, who lasted less than a half and Conner, who left in the second quarter.
The Steelers defense opened the game by giving up a quick touchdown as the Jets smartly mixed passes and runs down the field. Darnold threaded a perfect pass over Terrell Edmunds and Joe Haden for a 23-yard touchdown to Robbie Anderson for the score.
After rushing the ball six times for 32 yards, James Conner left the game in the second quarter with a thigh injury depleting the Pittsburgh offense even further. The oft-injured running back did not return.
With Rudolph leading the offense again for the first time since week 12, the Steelers largely abandoned the running game. It worked, the second-year quarterback completed nine of 12 passes for 105 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions in less than a quarter of action.
Late in the first half, soon to be defensive MVP TJ Watt sacked and stripped Sam Darnold and recovered the fumble for good measure to put the Steelers in business with under a minute left, trailing 10-3. Following a defensive penalty that gave the Steelers a first down with just nine seconds left, Rudolph found Diontae Johnson in the endzone for a 29-yard touchdown, tying the game going into halftime.
Steelers started off the second half with the ball, looking for their first lead of the game but were forced to punt after picking up just one first down. The Jets were then able to move the ball methodically to midfield before Darnold hooked up with Trevon Wesco, who was completely uncovered, for a 32-yard gain to the 19 yard line. The drive stopped there but a short Sam Ficken field goal put the Jets back in front, 13-10.
The rest of the quarter was a special teams battle as neither team was able to do anything on offense. At the start of the fourth quarter, the Steelers gifted the Jets a first down by jumping into the neutral zone on a 4th-and-five. But Darnold and the New York offense were unable to move the ball any further.
Then, seemingly without warning, Duck Hodges received the call again after Rudolph was unable to continue at QB following an apparent shoulder injury.
Hodges and company drove the field, getting into field goal territory before a sack and a bad snap knocked the team back and forced a punt.
Darnold and the Jets were up to the challenge, quickly driving into Steelers territory. An 11-yard scamper by Le’Veon Bell on 3rd-and-14 at the 35 gave Sam Ficken an easier field goal attempt and he converted giving the Jets a six point cushion.
With 3:11 left in the fourth quarter and the Steelers needing a touchdown, it was up to Devlin Hodges once again. However, a short run, a sack and an incompletion left the Steelers on life support.
The ball back in the hands of the NY Jets offense and the season on the line, the Pittsburgh defense held, forcing a quick three and out and burned only 20 seconds on the clock.
A 28-yard punt gave the Steelers life, and the ball at the 40 with 1:27 left in the game. But after a single first down, the Steelers stalled and an incompletion on 4th down ended the game.
Both teams were disciplined, with only seven combined penalties between them. The Steelers committed one more penalty (four to three) for 34 yards to 30 for the Jets. The teams had almost identical offensive numbers, 263 yards for the Jets to 260 for the Steelers. The Steelers had 185 yards passing to 174 and 75 rushing yards to 85 for the Jets.