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CBSSports.com National Columnist

Jets deserve praise for playing hard to bitter end


PITTSBURGH -- Say goodbye to Rex Ryan and the football team created in his obnoxious image. The Jets are gone, and the world is a better place because of ...

You know what? No -- I can't do it. I can't go there. I can't do what the Pittsburgh Steelers did after they defeated the Jets 24-19 on Sunday night to win the AFC title and advance to the Super Bowl. I can't mock the Jets.

Pittsburgh could. Pittsburgh did. Safeties William Gay and Ike Taylor, who combined on the Steelers' killer defensive touchdown late in the first half, celebrated the final whistle by running around the end zone with their heads tilted back and their arms spread wide. They were pretending to be Jets. Get it? Jets!

Fifteen minutes later, the Steelers thundered into their locker room with one last word. Well, two last words.

"Can't wait!"

That's what they screamed, player after player, as they disappeared into the Pittsburgh locker room. They were mocking the impromptu battle cry uttered one week earlier by Jets linebacker Bart Scott, who was told that Pittsburgh awaited in the AFC title game and blurted out, "Can't wait!"

Not sure the Steelers should have done that -- there's something to be said for winning with class -- but they did it. They beat the Jets, then they rubbed it in. So be it. The argument could be made that the Jets deserved it. That the Jets deserve it even now. From me, since you're here reading this story. The Jets deserve to be mocked, for talking for so long and then for coming up so short.

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And I could do it. In fact, I was going to do it. I wanted to do it. That was at halftime, with the score 24-3. The Jets had embarrassed themselves for 30 minutes, allowing Pittsburgh to outgain them in yards 231 to 50. New York had rushed for one net yard. Pittsburgh had run for 135. The Jets couldn't do anything but punt, and they weren't even punting well. This was a colossal collapse, and these were the Jets. Big talkers. Loudmouths. They trailed 24-3, and they looked ready to quit. I was ready to lay into them, and let me tell you something -- I was going to enjoy myself.

But then came the second half. And the Jets didn't quit.

How do you mock a team that plays that hard, that well, with that much pride, in the second half of the 19th game of the season, the last three coming on the road against the top three seeds in the AFC? The Jets had to be exhausted, physically. They had to be fried, mentally.

But they just kept coming.

"Tip our hat to those guys," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That team has some great competitors."

New York received the kickoff to start the second half, and on third-and-3, quarterback Mark Sanchez completed a pass to ex-Steeler Santonio Holmes at the Pittsburgh 45. Holmes, hot dog that he is, popped up and celebrated the play with an exaggerated first-down symbol. The crowd booed. I smirked. Down 24-3, and celebrating a first down? Stupid.

One play later, Holmes was in the end zone. He had just caught a 45-yard touchdown pass from Sanchez. No more boos. No more smirk. Silence. It was 24-10.

New York screwed up by extending the Steelers' next drive, running into the Pittsburgh punter, but then the Jets intercepted Ben Roethlisberger inside their own 20 and started to drive the other way. And they kept coming.

CBSSports.com Grades
New York Jets
New York Jets
The Jets got off to anemic start on both offense and defense and were never able to make up for it. The defense's poor tackling created way too many opportunities for the Steelers. The offense's lack of third-down conversions also killed their chance to build momentum. It was a different team that came out in the second half, but it was too late.
By Lisa Zimmerman
RapidReports Correspondent

Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers played a perfect first half but got complacent in the second half and almost lost the game. The offensive line had one of their best games of the season, the defense was tough, and Rashard Mendenhall ran for 121 yards against a tough Jets defense.
By Brian Carson
RapidReports Correspondent

New York crossed midfield. Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who had a wretched drop in the first half, made a catch and survived a brutal hit from Steelers safety Troy Polamalu early in the drive. Running back Shonn Greene converted a fourth-and-1. Cotchery made a catch on third-and-6, putting the ball at the 2.

The Jets were about to score -- but didn't. Three plays from the 1-yard line. Three failures. Pittsburgh had the ball, but the Jets kept coming.

Pinned inside their own 1, the Steelers blinked. Fumbled snap. Safety. Now it was 24-12. And the Jets kept coming. They drove 58 yards for a touchdown -- converting a fourth-and-1 along the way -- to get within 24-19. Now they needed just one last defensive stop, and Sanchez was going to have the ball and about 75 seconds left and who knows what could ...

But the Jets stopped coming. They called all their timeouts, but they allowed Pittsburgh to get one first down. Then another first down. Then it was over -- the game, the season, the Jets.

Still, they kept coming.

Ryan walked into his postgame press conference and was respectful to the Steelers, but defiant to everyone else. He said the Jets, who have fallen one game short of the Super Bowl two years in a row, would be back. He said they'd get to the AFC title game again, and they'd win it, and then they'd get to a Super Bowl -- and they'd win that. And then he dared anyone in the room to rip his team.

"Our goal for next year, I got news for you -- it won't change, and it will never change," Ryan said. "We are going to chase the Super Bowl. We're going to chase it until we get it, and we'll chase it after that again. If you want to criticize us, then go ahead. But you have no right."

The man keeps coming. Kind of hard not to admire the guy, and the team created in his relentless image.

Gregg Doyel is a columnist for CBSSports.com. He covered the ACC for the Charlotte Observer, the Marlins for the Miami Herald, and Brooksville (Fla.) Hernando for the Tampa Tribune. He was 4-0 (3 KO's!) as an amateur boxer, and volunteers for the ALS Association. Follow Gregg Doyel on Twitter.

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