EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Muhammad Wilkerson just missed sacking Ben Roethlisberger for a safety. Geno Smith just missed hitting Stephen Hill for a long touchdown.
The New York Jets learned they can't fail on those types of opportunities.
Roethlisberger threw a 55-yard TD pass to Emmanuel Sanders, Shaun Suisham kicked four field goals and the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Jets 19-6 on Sunday to avert their first 0-5 start since 1968.
"We're striving for consistency and we're not quite there. We have to get there in a hurry," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
Coming off an impressive comeback win at Atlanta on Monday night, the Jets (3-3) looked like a team that had a short week to prepare for a well-rested opponent. The Steelers (1-4) had a bye last week after losing to Minnesota in London on Sept. 29.
"We knew going in that team was coming off two weeks' preparation and we would get their very best," Ryan said. "That's a very prideful team and we got their best. We knew we'd be playing a fresh team coming off a bye, but that was hardly a letdown."
Facing an opponent that had zero takeaways, Smith made a crucial mistake in the third quarter when he tried to force a pass into triple coverage inside Steelers territory. Trailing 16-6, the Jets had a first down at the 23. But Smith was picked off by Ryan Clark.
"I wish I could take back the throw," Smith said. "It can't happen, especially in the red zone and critical situations. I tried to throw it away, throw it over their backs, and he came over and made the play."
The Jets managed just a pair of field goals by Nick Folk against a team that allowed 74 points in its previous two games. Steelers veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau improved to 16-2 against rookie quarterbacks.
"You can tell those guys had time to prepare," Smith said. "They covered our verticals. They kept things in front of them. They didn't allow us to hit the big play."
The Jets' receiving corps, already depleted by an injury to Santonio Holmes and suspension to Kellen Winslow Jr., took another hit when Clyde Gates left with a shoulder injury. Running back Mike Goodson (knee), cornerback Kyle Wilson (head) and running back Bilal Powell (shoulder) also left with injuries. Powell said he's fine and Ryan didn't have an update on the others.
Smith, who was turnover-free against the Falcons while throwing three touchdown passes, was 19 of 34 for 201 yards.
The Jets were down 6-3 in the second quarter when Smith overthrew Hill on a deep pass that would've gone for a 77-yard TD. Hill blew past Ike Taylor and Troy Polamalu on the play.
"It was just out of my reach," Hill said. "I wish I could've dove and caught it on my fingertips. At that moment, it was disappointing, but we have to go out and make the next play."
On Pittsburgh's second series, Wilkerson had Roethlisberger in his grasp in the end zone but couldn't get him down for a safety and a 2-0 lead.
"That's what Ben does," Ryan said. "He's a big, strong guy."
Sanders beat Antonio Cromartie on the deep pass early in the third quarter and somersaulted into the end zone to extend Pittsburgh's lead to 16-6. Cromartie, who hyperextended a knee in practice Thursday and was questionable, later was called for pass interference on a long pass to Antonio Brown that set up a field goal.
"The knee didn't impact anything," Cromartie said.
Hill sprinted past Pittsburgh's secondary the same way. The difference was the Steelers' veteran quarterback didn't miss.
"I looked up and saw Emmanuel running by himself and kind of had to hesitate for a second because I couldn't believe he was so wide open," Roethlisberger said. "The only thought in my head was, 'Don't overthrow him.'"
Smith's second interception late in the fourth sealed the win for Pittsburgh. On first down from the Steelers 12, Smith was hit by Jarvis Jones as he threw, and the wobbly pass was picked off by Lawrence Timmons.
"The red-zone interception by Ryan Clark, the red-zone interception by Lawrence Timmons, are significant plays," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "There are plays and then there are significant plays."
The Steelers made all of those against the Jets.
NOTES: Since 2010, the Steelers are 14-1 when Roethlisberger's passer rating is above 100. ... Powell led the Jets with 30 yards rushing on nine carries. ... Gates had five catches for 36 yards.
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