EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Just what Rex Ryan and the struggling New York Jets needed.
Mired in an eight-game losing streak and one defeat from setting a dubious franchise record, the Jets now have to deal with touchdown-tossing Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I’ve had a lot of matchups against Big Ben through my days,” Ryan said. “I lost two (AFC) championship games to him. I had some good games against him and all that. I’ve never seen him this hot.
“He’s just on fire right now.”
That’s for sure. Roethlisberger is coming off becoming the first player in NFL history to throw six touchdown passes in consecutive games. He and Y.A. Tittle are the only players to have two six-TD games in a season.
Somehow still not impressed? Well, consider that Roethlisberger has 12 TDs in two games – while the Jets’ quarterbacks have thrown eight all season.
“What he is doing right now is Ben-like,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “We get used to seeing it. We appreciate it. We don’t take it for granted.”
Pittsburgh (6-3) has won three in a row and looks for its first four-game streak since 2012. The Steelers will be going for it against a team that hasn’t won since Week 1, has had problems in the secondary all season and is going with Michael Vick for the second straight game over Geno Smith.
Oh, and with Jets fans disgruntled – one even rented a plane-pulled banner urging the team to fire general manager John Idzik – MetLife Stadium could have plenty of yellow Terrible Towels flying on Sunday.
“Anywhere we go, there’s always lots of Steelers fans,” Roethlisberger said. “So, there’s been a couple of games this year that we’ve been on the road that it literally felt like a home game. We hope and anticipate and expect there to be a lot of Steelers fans there, but we also have to expect it to be loud because of Jets fans.”
And for the Jets (1-8), they’re just hoping it won’t be boos directed at them.
“Hopefully, the fans will come out and support, and if not we understand,” Vick said. “But, I think when they do, it characterizes them as true fans.”
Here are some other things to watch when the Steelers take on the Jets:
BROWN DELIVERS: Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown leads the NFL with 71 catches and 996 yards receiving while establishing himself as one of the game’s elite playmakers.
He needs at least five catches and 80 yards receiving to become the first player in league history to reach those marks in each of the first 10 games of a season. He also needs just 4 yards receiving to reach 1,000 for the second straight season.
“He’s right up there at the top of the list,” Roethlisberger said of where Brown ranks on the list of receivers he has played with.
BELL RINGING: Pittsburgh running back Le’Veon Bell has become a dangerous dual threat.
He’s fourth in the NFL with 711 yards rushing, and leads the AFC – and is second in the league – with 1,144 yards from scrimmage. Bell needs just five catches to top John L. Williams (51 in 1994) for most in team history by a running back.
“He finds a way to contribute and help us,” Roethlisberger said, “no matter what.”
LIKE MIKE: Vick was solid – not spectacular – in his debut as the Jets’ starting quarterback.
He was 21 of 28 for 196 yards and one TD and passer rating of 105.7, and had no turnovers. With Smith recovering from a sore shoulder, Vick’s performance prompted Ryan to tab him as the starter against the Steelers – and possibly longer, especially if he can pull out a few wins.
“From this point on, we’ve got to tighten up on the details,” Vick said, “and make sure that when we do have an opportunity to score and we’re in the red zone that we do come away with some type of points, but more so touchdowns than field goals.”
CORNERBACK CHALLENGE: Because of injuries, inconsistency and ineffectiveness, the Jets are trying anything they can with their cornerback situation.
That means even holding an in-season competition. That’s how Marcus Williams, signed from the practice squad on Oct. 28, ended up starting opposite converted safety Antonio Allen five days later. Ryan hinted that Allen will move back to safety again, which means Williams could be joined by a new partner – stay tuned – in the starting lineup Sunday.
CATCHING ON: It didn’t take long for Percy Harvin to become a focal point of the Jets’ offense.
Against Kansas City, and in his second game with his new team, Harvin was targeted by Vick 13 times and caught 11 passes for 129 yards. Disappointed that Seattle didn’t use him more down the field, Harvin is getting that opportunity in New York – and could help a passing game ranked last in the league.
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed.
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