For the New York Jets, everything pathetic has become world-class again.
Just a week after the team headed for its 2012 season opener with whispers about quarterback controversies and concerns about whether they'd ever find the end zone without a GPS, the perceptions of Gang Green's point-scoring prowess have changed dramatically.
Quarterback Mark Sanchez and Co. played parts of three preseason games without scoring a single touchdown, but burst out in convincing fashion once the official first whistle was blown, with the offense putting up 34 of the team's league-best points in Week 1 48-28 rout of the Buffalo Bills.
New York scored on its first three possessions against the Bills and added touchdowns via both special teams and defense en route to a 20-point thrashing of an AFC East rival who'd been a popular upset pick thanks to major personnel changes in the offseason.
This week, the Jets' defensive hurdle gets a little higher - in the form of the perennially stout Pittsburgh Steelers in a Week 2 road matchup at Heinz Field.
"I know we're a special group," Sanchez said. "I've known that from the jump, but I think we're starting to realize it."
The fourth-year quarterback completed 19-of-27 passes for 266 yards and three touchdowns with one interception against Buffalo. Two scoring passes were caught by rookie Stephen Hill, a second-round pick from Georgia Tech who had five catches for 89 yards in his debut.
"(Hill) showed that toughness that we knew he had," Jets head coach Rex Ryan said. "It is impressive that he was able to have that kind of day."
On defense, cornerbacks Darrelle Revis, Kyle Wilson and Antonio Cromartie each had interceptions for New York, with Cromartie bringing his back for a touchdown.
However, Revis's status for Sunday will be a late-stage decision after he suffered a mild concussion, according to the team, when he was kicked in the head by teammate Bart Scott while lunging to make a tackle against the Bills. Revis left the game in the fourth quarter and did not return.
If he's not available, Ryan may need another breakout from both Sanchez and his ballyhooed caddy, backup Tim Tebow. The former University of Florida star defeated Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season while with the Denver Broncos, with Tebow completing 10-of-21 passes for 316 yards and a pair of touchdowns, but was on the field for just nine snaps in his New York curtain-raiser last week.
"This is as tough a place as we've talked about playing," Ryan said of Pittsburgh. "It's based on the fact that they have an excellent football team, and they get after it. Their defense; they have seven players that are over 30 years old, and you see that. They don't make mistakes. They don't beat themselves. They're smart. They're extremely physical."
Pittsburgh was without several key defensive players in its 2012 opener against the Broncos, with Tebow replacement Peyton Manning throwing for 334 yards to deal the Steelers a 31-19 loss in the Mile High City. Linebacker James Harrison is set to return for Pittsburgh after sitting out Week 1 with a a knee issue. Safety Ryan Clark, who was held out due to a sickle cell trait that flares at altitude, is also back in the fold.
"Obviously, those guys are capable of helping us," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. "They're quality veteran players. They know how to play and, specifically in Ryan's case, not only his play but his communication and leadership. That remains to be seen and we're not going to assume anything. What we are going to do is focus on the healthy guys and get them prepared to play, and ultimately expect them to play on the acceptable level."
A reinforcement could be in store on offense as well in the form of starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall, who missed last week with the lingering effects of a torn ACL suffered last season.
Pittsburgh managed just 284 total yards against Denver, including 75 on the ground.
"This week is very important," running back Jonathan Dwyer said. "Every week is important. The first didn't go as we wanted, but we are going to make sure we put ourselves in a better situation this week than we did last week."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed 22 passes for 245 yards, two touchdowns and an interception last week. The turnover was especially costly, however, coming back 43 yards for a Denver touchdown in the final two minutes.
Still, Roethlisberger is 24-5 in his last 29 home games with a 62.9 completion percentage, 43 touchdown passes and a 97.7 quarterback rating. He's 3-1 against the Jets, including a victory in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field in January of 2011.
Additionally, the Steelers haven't started 0-2 since 2002, and they've won nine straight home openers - the second-longest streak in the league behind New England's 10.
"The Super Bowl was not won or lost last week and probably isn't won or lost this week," Roethlisberger said. "It makes it a little bit harder with every loss, but we're just going to come out, play good football, and keep trying to get better."
Steelers lead 15-4
Streak: Jets have won last two regular-season meetings. Last Regular-Season Meeting: Jets 22, Steelers 17 (Dec. 19, 2010)
Jets HC Rex Ryan vs. Steelers: 1-1 Steelers HC Mike Tomlin vs. Jets: 1-2 Ryan vs. Tomlin Head-to-Head: 1-1
Notes: New York's win at Heinz Field in 2010 stands as the franchise's only victory in nine lifetime visits to Pittsburgh, which includes a 24-19 loss to the Steelers in that same season's AFC Championship Game as well as a 20-17 overtime setback in the Divisional Round of the 2004 conference playoffs. Pittsburgh's last non-playoff win over the Jets also occurred in 2004, a 17-6 decision at Heinz Field.
BY THE NUMBERS
Offensive Team Rankings
N.Y. Jets: 11th overall (384.0 ypg), 12th rushing (118.0 ypg), 13th passing (266.0 ypg), 1st scoring (48.0 ppg)
Pittsburgh: 23rd overall (284.0 ypg), 24th rushing (75.0 ypg), 23th passing (209.0 ypg), 22nd scoring (19.0 ppg)
Defensive Team Rankings
N.Y. Jets: 24th overall (390.0 ypg), 32nd rushing (195.0 ypg), 8th passing (195.0 ypg), 22nd scoring (28.0 ppg)
Pittsburgh: 15th overall (334.0 ypg), 16th rushing (94.0 ypg), 14th passing (240.0 ypg), 25th scoring (31.0 ppg)
N.Y. Jets: +3 (4 takeaways, 1 giveaways) Pittsburgh: +0 (1 takeaways, 1 giveaways)
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (offense)
N.Y. Jets: 60.0 percent (5 possessions, 3 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 10th overall Pittsburgh: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 2 FG) -- tied 14th overall
Red Zone Touchdown Percentage (defense)
N.Y. Jets: 100.0 percent (2 possessions, 2 TD, 0 FG) -- tied 27th overall Pittsburgh: 50.0 percent (4 possessions, 2 TD, 1 FG) -- tied 11th overall
WHEN THE JETS HAVE THE BALL
Sanchez has been successful against the Steelers in his career, passing for 403 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 92.3 quarterback rating. In three-plus years of September games, he's 8-2 with 19 touchdown passes, seven interceptions and a 96.3 rating. When Sanchez's rating climbs past 100 for his career, the Jets are 8-2. On the ground, running back Shonn Green had 94 yards and a score in the opener, though he was overshadowed to some extent by the 100-plus yards compiled in defeat by Buffalo's C.J. Spiller. Ex- Pittsburgh wide receiver Santonio Holmes played with the Steelers for four seasons from 2006-09 and caught a memorable Super Bowl-winning pass from Roethlisberger against the Arizona Cardinals. Rookie Hill, the 43rd overall pick in April's draft, caught five passes for 89 yards (17.8 avg.) with two touchdowns and became the first rookie since Arizona's Anquan Boldin (217 yards, two TD) to register 80 or more receiving yards and two scores in a season opener. Fellow wideout Jeremy Kerley had a 68-yard punt return for a score and a 12-yard touchdown catch against Buffalo - becoming the first NFL player since 2000 to have a touchdown catch and a punt return score in a season opener.
On defense for the Steelers, linebacker LaMarr Woodley needs two sacks to become the sixth Steeler to reach 50 in his career. His counterpart on the opposite side, Harrison, is just three sacks away from passing Keith Willis (59) and Joey Porter (60) for the second-most in franchise history. Including postseason games, safety Troy Polamalu has two interceptions in five career meetings with the Jets, and inside linebacker Larry Foote had his 20th career sack last week.
WHEN THE STEELERS HAVE THE BALL
As mentioned previously, Roethlisberger has a 44-13 (.772) career record at home as a starter and with 26,824 passing yards for his career, needs just 176 more to join Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw as the second Steeler to reach 27,000. In two previous meetings with the Jets -- including the 2010 AFC title game -- Mendenhall has 220 rushing yards on 44 attempts with two touchdowns on the ground, though he's still unlikely to suit up this week while recovering from his injury. Dwyer is a solid replacement who's averaged 5.7 yards per carry (34 rushes, 194 yards) during his brief career, however. On the outside, wide receiver Mike Wallace had seven catches for 102 yards in his only previous regular-season game against the Jets, which came in 2010, and has five touchdown catches in his past five September games. Tight end Heath Miller, meanwhile, needs 86 receiving yards to become the eighth Steeler to record 4,000 in a career.
For New York, success revolves around their ball-hawking coverage group led by Revis, a native of nearby Aliquippa, Pa. who had a team-high three passes defensed against the Bills. He and fellow corners Cromartie and Kyle Wilson each had a pick last week.
If all is based on last week's impressions, the New York and Pittsburgh records would logically progress to 2-0 and 0-2, respectively. However, the Steelers will surely be boosted by the returns of Harrison and Clark on defense, the possible comeback of Mendenhall carrying the ball and the zealous home-field crowd that's not accustomed to starting two games below .500. Sanchez will still be a suspect each week until he does exactly what's needed this time - going into a difficult opponent's home stadium, play a mistake- free game and emerge with a win. If he does that, he may even start to win the battle of press conferences with his celebrated backup. Odds are, however, that his counterpart Roethlisberger finds a way.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Steelers 17, Jets 16