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Landry Jones should be Steelers’ starting QB until Roethlisberger returns

It seemed awfully cold for Landry Jones to be playing quarterback, Alejandro Villanueva to be at left tackle and a guy named Chris Boswell to be kicking field goals at Heinz Field.

But this was no preseason game. It was the real deal, and the Pittsburgh Steelers MacGyvered their way to another win without Ben Roethlisberger Sunday.

And in the spirit of this Halloween season, the Steelers are now a little less haunted by The Night of the Living Tebow.

Roethlisberger was 29 when the Steelers went down in Denver to end their 2011 season. For the first time since then, a quarterback younger than 30 called the signals for the Steelers.

That might seem like trivia on the surface, but what this means is that the Steelers don’t necessarily have to rely on a journeyman when Roethlisberger is injured. They could have a viable backup with upside for the life of Roethlisberger’s five-year contract.

That’s assuming Jones gets a promotion on the depth chart. Roethlisberger likely will hit the practice field again this week with hopes of playing at Kansas City Sunday. But if he can’t go, Jones should start.

The 26-year-old stepped onto the field for the first time in a game that counts, leading the Steelers from behind in a 25-13 win over the Arizona Cardinals. He completed eight of 12 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns.

Mike Vick completed three of eight passes for six yards – and threw yet another pass that should have been intercepted – before leaving Sunday’s game with a hamstring injury. Since replacing Roethlisberger in Week 3, his passes have yielded 5.6 yards per attempt. Jones, on the other hand, moved the Steelers an average of 14 yards per attempt against a top-10 defense.

Since being drafted in 2013, Jones has been the Steelers’ Mr. August. He’s been the face of the preseason. Sunday’s performance doesn’t earn him the Mr. October moniker. That honor goes to Martavis Bryant. Just like last year, Bryant made his season debut in October and had quite an impact. It was his athleticism that turned two of Jones’ completions into touchdowns on Sunday.

The career Big 12 leader in passing yards had a short field to work with when he replaced Vick. James Harrison forced a fumble and Mike Mitchell recovered at the Cardinals’ 32-yard line with 10:21 left in the third quarter. Jones’ first career completion was an eight-yard touchdown pass to Bryant that gave the Steelers a 12-10 lead. The 6’4″ receiver had to leap for it in the back of the end zone.

Bryant also did most of the work on Jones’ second touchdown pass, snagging it at the 21-yard line and out-racing multiple Cardinals defenders for an 88-yard score to make it 25-13 with just over two minutes left in the game.

Jones won’t be mistaken for a starting quarterback anytime soon, but for now he gives the Steelers a better chance to win than Vick and his fraying 35-year-old body. He also could be the Steelers’ only healthy quarterback next week.

While it seemed unlikely in August that Jones would be playing meaningful football for the Steelers in October, it seemed less likely that Boswell would. Very few Steelers fans, if any, had even heard of Boswell during the preseason. But his phone rang after Josh Scobee’s nightmarish performance against the Ravens in Week 4 and he’s made all five of his field-goal attempts since joining the Steelers. His four field goals Sunday turned out to be the Steelers’ margin of victory.

Like Jones and Boswell, Villaneuva wasn’t guaranteed a spot on an NFL roster in the regular season. But for almost three quarters on Sunday, he played left tackle on an offensive line that didn’t allow Vick or Jones to be sacked (Calais Campbell sacked Vick in the first quarter).

It would be a nice story if the undrafted Villaneuva, a former Army Ranger, succeeds for the Steelers. But it would be bittersweet because his opportunity arose from an injury that could end Kelvin Beachum’s days in Pittsburgh.

Beachum, who’s in a contract year, went down with a torn ACL early in the second quarter. He became the latest Steeler to be carted off a field this year. Now the offensive line will have to make do without Beachum and probably Maurkice Pouncey for the rest of the season. This was going to be the year that the offensive line was strength for the first time since the days of Alan Faneca. With Mike Munchak running the unit it still could be, but the Hall of Famer has his work cut out for him.

What wasn’t supposed to happen this season was any game-saving ability on the defensive side of the ball, but that’s just what the Steelers got Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 421 yards, but for the game’s final 51 minutes the only Cardinals’ scoring was two Chandler Catanzaro field goals. The defense kept the Steelers in the game until Jones and Bryant breathed life into the offense.

The Steelers’ 18-13 lead seemed about as secure as a leaf on a tree branch in autumn as Palmer moved the Cardinals to the Steelers’ 20-yard line with 2:25 to go in the game. But Mitchell provided further evidence that maybe he wasn’t a bad free agent signing after all when he intercepted Palmer in the end zone. It was the third turnover the Steelers forced and it set up Jones’ game-clinching TD pass to Bryant.

At 4-2, the Steelers are off to their best start after six games since 2011, yet another sign the franchise is restoring its pre-Tebow swagger. If they have to weather another game or two without Roethlisberger, this should be Jones’ team until No. 7 ditches the ballcap for a helmet.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets

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