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No. 10: Jets' defensive stand sets up title game rematch

As the research analyst for NFL Network's NFL RedZone, Elliot Harrison watched all 267 games in the 2010 season. We asked him to rank the 20 most memorable.

Growing up, I learned football from watching Pat Summerall and John Madden. The CBS chalkboard was the coolest thing on television this side of Knight Rider and Richard Grieco. Something tells me Summerall and Madden, arguably the greatest broadcast team ever, would've loved the Week 15 street fight between the Jets and Steelers.

This game -- and these teams -- harken back to the days when the Giants, Redskins and Bears all beat up on each other in the late '80s, with Summerall and Madden always in the booth. Those games always featured stifling defense, running games, and "Parcells football." Bill Parcells, Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka were strong-willed coaches that spearheaded tough football teams that won six of 10 Super Bowls from 1982 through 1991.

Had Summerall and Madden called Game No. 10 in our series, Madden would be scribbling on your television screen, drawing up Jason Taylor's safety to put the Jets up 22-17, while slobbering all over the mic about trench play ... not to mention the significance of the five-point lead with just 2:45 left in the fourth quarter.

That was just one of the game-changers that made this old-school, 1980s NFC-style game so cool, despite it being one of the most critical AFC games of the 2010 season.

Following the free kick, Pittsburgh's defense stopped the Jets in their tracks to get the ball back into the hands of Ben Roethlisberger. Unbelievably, the franchise quarterback drove Pittsburgh to the brink -- 82 yards in 14 plays, using 2:01 of the game clock.

Ultimately, a game whose most important play might have been Brad Smith's 97-yard sprint on the opening kickoff came down to a third down from the Jets' 10-yard line with seven ticks to go. Could Ryan's defense hold, staying in the AFC East race for another day?


The New York Jets defense played "Parcells football" like the old New York Giants, defending the goal line as if it was Rex's last plate of pasta on Earth.

Incomplete pass, game over.

Five weeks later, these two clubs would hook up in the AFC Championship Game on the same field.

Watching the AFC title game, I couldn't help but think about how hard fought the Week 15 battle was, and how I shouldn't have been surprised the same teams were playing for a Super Bowl berth.

There are games that wow you when you seem them for the first time, and those that wow you in hindsight. Mark this Week 15 matchup as the latter.

Turning point

A major turning pointing in the game was Mark Sanchez's bootleg on fourth-and-1 to score from 7 yards out. Ryan felt his team needed to take a shot at stealing a win on the road, especially already being in the third quarter, so he passed over a chip-shot field goal from inside the 10 and tried to tie the game at 17.

"We practiced it against our defense and it caught them off guard," Sanchez said after the game. "It was a great call at the right time."

A similar deal would be on the table in the second half of the AFC Championship -- in the same end zone no less -- when the Jets tried to score on fourth down rather than kick a field goal. Down two touchdowns, Ryan felt his team had to get six points. No dice. The Jets were stopped cold and ultimately lost, 24-19.

Can't-Miss Play

You gotta love Brad Smith. The dude is a winner. He does every little thing the Jets coaching staff needs him to do to win games. He's a special-teams stud, can play quarterback out of the Jets' wildcat formation, and is dangerous when he gets any head of steam.

Seeing Smith's kickoff return was like watching Eric Dickerson in his prime. Smith's long strides make it look like he's not even running that fast. Yea, right. Notice how he pulls away from everybody at Heinz Field.

Play of the game

Up 20-17, Jets punter Steve Weatherford pinned the Steelers at the Pittsburgh 3-yard line. This came after Ryan decided to punt on 5 from the Pittsburgh 35, rather than go for it or attempt a long field goal in the poor weather conditions. Ryan's decision would come up spades.

Taylor nailed Mewelde Moore on the Steelers' first play from scrimmage, knifing through and crushing the reserve running back right at the goal line. A three-point game with 2:45 to play was now a five-point game, and the Steelers would have to give the ball back to New York.

Why this Game is No. 10

While the matchup didn't feature eight tons of offense and amazing throws like some other regular-season games, it was one of the biggest games of the season. It featured two franchises that needed wins to fortify their playoff position, setting the stage for their AFC Championship showdown a month later.

Pittsburgh was without star safety Troy Polamalu, who sat out Week 15 with an Achilles' tendon injury. The 2010 AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year would be back in the lineup by the time these two teams met again in January.

The Steelers and Jets maintain the same organizational philosophy in so many ways, and while both were dismantled by the Patriots earlier in the season, you knew at least one of these clubs would be there at the end of the playoffs. Both play solid defense (better than the Patriots) and have an uncanny ability to pull out wins.

Why not higher?

As much of a street fight as this December bout was, it lacked the offensive firepower or big plays that Game 11 and Game 12 in our series were jam-packed with. Plus, when talking to fans and other analysts, this wasn't a game that came up often enough when discussing 2010's most elite.

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