Steelers show need for lots of work in exhibition loss to Jets

The Pittsburgh Steelers, beginning the preseason the same way they ended last season, felt fortunate that it wasn’t a game that counted. The New York Jets only wish it did.
Vinny Testaverde led a long touchdown drive on New York’s opening possession and the Jets, aided by the special teams mistakes and turnovers that doomed Pittsburgh in the AFC title game, beat the Steelers 16-6 Thursday night.
“It was really encouraging to open the preseason with a touchdown,” said Testaverde, who was 6-of-8 for 61 yards despite a thumb injury that bothered him early in camp. “I felt right in stride.”
The Steelers, consensus picks to win the AFC championship they lost at home to New England seven months ago, probably felt stuck in time.
Except for a couple of big plays by second-round draft pick Antwaan Randle El, who created first downs the first four times he touched the ball, it was an effort remarkably similar to the AFC championship game loss.
Jerome Bettis once again had no running room, gaining only 8 yards on seven carries, numbers similar to his 8 yards on nine carries against New England.
Again, there were turnovers — Kordell Stewart was intercepted on the first of two series run by the Steelers starters, leading to one of John Hall’s field goals — and some mistakes by Troy Edwards on special teams, plus a blocked punt, and four turnovers.
These were the same kind of errors that led the Steelers to fire former special teams coach Jay Hayes and bring in Kevin Spencer, only to get a repeat performance.
“It’s eerie to get all that again. … It’s amazing. I’m stuttering, I almost don’t know what to say,” punter Josh Miller said. “But we’ll get it fixed — Coach (Bill Cowher) is spending a lot of time with special teams, and it will get fixed.”
Cowher said, “It was disappointing, but not discouraging. … I wasn’t happy about that (the special teams plays).”
Edwards, whose error in stepping out of bounds while covering a Steelers punt led to Troy Brown’s game-altering punt return touchdown for New England, was flagged this time for a 15-yard face mask penalty and for being the 12th man on the field on a Jets punt. That mistake kept the Jets’ opening series alive.
“We didn’t have any third-and-longs on that drive and that allowed us to get first downs,” Testaverde said. “We approached it like a regular season game and scripted the plays.”
New York’s 70-yard drive lasted so long — more than 8 1/2 minutes — before LaMont Jordan scored from the 1 that Pittsburgh’s starters, expected to be pulled before the end of the first quarter, played well into the second.
After the starters left, Hall kicked field goals of 33 and 40 yards and Danny Boyd kicked a 42-yarder, while the Steelers managed only field goals of 21 and 31 yards by new kicker Todd Peterson.
“Defensively, I thought we played well,” Jets coach Herman Edwards said. “We created two turnovers (in the first half) and had a nice goal-line stand. We won a game on the road and that’s a pretty good start, beating them here.”
The Steelers’ offensive starters had one productive drive, advancing to the Jets’ 1 on Stewart’s 40-yard completion to Plaxico Burress. But Bettis, recovering from a groin injury, lost 2 yards on three consecutive carries, forcing the Steelers to settle for the first of Peterson’s field goals.
“What we understand now is we’re nowhere near where we need to be,” Bettis said. “We made a lot of mental mistakes.”
Jets first-round draft pick Bryan Thomas also blocked a punt by Miller midway through the second quarter, but the Jets couldn’t capitalize as linebacker James Farrior threw Jordan for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1. Farrior was the Jets’ leading tackler last season before signing with Pittsburgh.
The Steelers had another good scoring chance late in the first half, but rookie receiver Lee Mays fumbled after hooking up with backup Tommy Maddox on a 21-yard completion and Jets cornerback Jamie Henderson recovered at New York’s 13.
The only second-half scoring as reserves and rookies fought for roster spots for both teams came on three field goals, two by New York, which lost 18-7 in Pittsburgh late last season. Both teams played four quarterbacks.