Jets kicked in the gut

ROB LONGLEY, in Pittsburgh

, Last Updated: 9:37 AM ET

Twice the clock seemed set to strike midnight on Big Ben, a sickening feeling the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie quarterback had yet to taste. Ben Roethlisberger stood on the Heinz Field sideline, crushed that the first defeat of his NFL career appeared certain to come in its biggest moment.

Then fate and the foot of New York Jets kicker Doug Brien intervened to rescue an epic AFC divisional playoff game for a delirious, Terrible Towel-waving Steel City crowd here in Pittsburgh.

Two Brien field goal-attempt misses inside the game's two-minute warning gave the Steelers one too many chances.

And when Jeff Reed hit from 33 yards 11 minutes into overtime, the Steelers escaped with a 20-17 overtime win earning the right to play host to the AFC Championship game next Sunday.

"I just feel really bad for the guys who played so hard and battled back," said Brien, who clunked his first effort from 47 yards off the crossbar and bulled the second, from 43 yards, wide left.

"The bottom line is that I went and kicked it and I missed them both. I cost our team the game."

It had seemed that Roethlisberger, who now has won all 14 games he has started, beat Brien to the punch.

He had thrown two interceptions and whether it was rust or nerves over his first career playoff start, was off the mark all game.

"That wasn't me out there," Roethlisberger said. "It was tough going and I did everything I could to lose the game. I've got to play better. That was terrible. The game I played is not going to cut it.

"Luckily, our defence did enough to win the game.''

The Jets loaded the box to stop the Steelers run and dared the rookie to beat them.

For most of the superbly entertaining game, it seemed like a bet worth making.

"Young Ben had won a lot of games for us, but I told him there would be nights like that," Steelers linebacker Joey Porter said. "There was a point of time where I knew he was feeling really bad about himself but we had his back."

The No. 1-ranked defence in the NFL had been slamming the door all evening, keeping the Jets offence out of the end zone. The only two New York touchdowns came on a 75-yard punt return by Santana Moss in the second quarter and an 86-yard Reggie Tongue interception return in the third.

Perhaps more importantly, both times the Jets moved into field-goal range with the game on the line, the Steelers made certain Brien wouldn't be left with a chip shot.

"We weren't going to let them get in there easy," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "We put them in a tough spot, that's a fact. If they would have got closer, it would have been a different story, but they didn't."

The Jets, who had seen the other side of the story a week earlier when the San Diego Chargers missed an overtime field goal attempt, won the toss and got the ball first in overtime.

Perhaps deflated by the Brien misses, they had to punt and Steelers coach Bill Cowher gave Big Ben a break. The Steelers returned to their bread and butter, letting running back Duce Staley pound the ball on the ground to set up Reed's winner.

Both defences were dominant at times. Just as the Jets hounded Roethlisberger, the Steelers did the same to Chad Pennington, putting scoring at a premium.

The Jets trailed 10-0 after the first quarter but battled back to tie the score at halftime. They took the lead on Tongue's interception return and never lost it until the final, agonizing kick in overtime.


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