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Jets 16, Steelers 10: Steelers once again will be scoreboard-watching in Week 17

Breaking news: The Steelers defense isn’t perfect.

It’s the fourth-best defense in the NFL in terms of yards per game (304.1) and points per game (18.3). On Sunday, that defense allowed just 259 yards and 16 points, but when your quarterbacks are Devlin Hodges and Mason Rudolph and the rest of your offense is standing in line at the medical tent, 16 points is too much.

The Steelers entered Sunday with a chance to make the playoffs if they won their final two games, but they lost 16-10 to the Jets at MetLife Stadium and also lost control of their playoff situation.

Now, there’s no easy way for the Steelers to make the playoffs. The least difficult way would be if they win at Baltimore next Sunday and the Titans lose at Houston. Both games have been moved to 4:25 p.m.

The Ravens have clinched the top seed and will rest their starters, according to Pro Football Talk. The problem is, Robert Griffin III still might give the Ravens an edge at quarterback over Hodges, and the Steelers also might have some other starters wearing sweats on the sidelines. Maurkice Pouncey (knee) and James Conner (thigh) both left Sunday’s game with injuries.

Furthermore, the Texans would be locked into the No. 4 seed and have nothing to play for in the likely event that the Chiefs beat the visiting Chargers in a 1 p.m. game Sunday.

PlayoffStatus.com, a very useful site, gives the Steelers a 30 percent chance to make the playoffs.

That’s a little generous.

It’s hard to get into the playoffs scoring 10 points in two straight games, and that’s what the Steelers (8-7) have done. They’ve scored 279 points this season. Even if they manage to score 21 next week, they’re likely to finish the season with their lowest point total since 2003, according to Pro Football Reference.

Yep, that’s the year before the Steelers drafted Ben Roethlisberger.

With the exception of their 33-3 loss at New England in Week 1, the Steelers have been in every game this year, thanks to their defense. However, we’re learning this season that having a defense that can help you win games isn’t enough. You also need a quarterback who can help you win games, and the Steelers haven’t had that since Roethlisberger hurt his elbow.

The Steelers’ quarterback carousel spun and spun again Sunday. Somehow Hodges thought he could complete a pass to Jaylen Samuels, a six-foot running back surrounded by three Jets in the end zone. That turned out to be his second interception, and he was benched for Rudolph.

Rudolph rallied the Steelers from a 10-0 deficit to a 10-10 halftime tie, throwing a 29-yard touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson with four seconds left in the first half.

Unfortunately, Pouncey’s injury led to a chain reaction that caused Rudolph’s injury in the third quarter. B.J. Finney replaced Pouncey and tripped Rudolph on his first snap. Rudolph tried in vain to hand the ball off to Benny Snell but was swarmed by Jets defenders as he landed on his left shoulder. He threw three more passes before Hodges was pressed back into duty.

Rudolph completed 14 of 20 passes for 129 yards with the touchdown in about a quarter of action, but the Steelers would have to make a deep playoff run for him to play again this season.

 

According to the NFL Network via Pro Football Talk, Rudolph is expected to be out “multiple weeks” with that shoulder injury.

If we didn’t know this already, we learned that Rudolph isn’t as durable as Roethlisberger. That doesn’t bode well for the guy who was drafted to eventually succeed Roethlisberger.

Hodges played the fourth quarter Sunday and completed 4-of-8 passes for 31 yards while taking two sacks. He threw a decent pass to James Washington in the end zone on the Steelers’ final possession, but Marcus Maye broke it up. Maye also had one of the interceptions thrown by Hodges in the first half.

JuJu Smith-Schuster has been skewered for not catching Hodges’ fourth-down pass with 38 seconds left, but Hodges might have thrown a better ball if he hadn’t dropped it before throwing it. Plus the Steelers would have needed another 15 or so yards with no timeouts.

This loss isn’t on Smith-Schuster. It’s probably not fair to put it on Hodges, either. This is a guy who the Steelers didn’t think was good enough to be on their Week 1 roster. Maybe there’s nothing else the Steelers can get out of him, and maybe there’s nothing else the Steelers can get out of this season in which they’ve been without their franchise quarterback.

There’s no way the Steelers are getting into the playoffs if the Titans win. Even if the Chargers upset the Chiefs in early window Sunday, the Texans could decide that the No. 3 seed isn’t worth risking injury to Deshaun Watson. On the other hand, if they keep the Titans out of the playoffs and get the third seed, they’d host the Steelers in a wild-card game. The Steelers aren’t exactly a team that opponents are afraid to see in the playoffs.

If the Steelers can take care of business against the Ravens backups Sunday, their playoff hopes will most likely rest on the shoulders of Texans backup quarterback A.J. McCarron. It wouldn’t be impossible for things to go the Steelers’ way. Don’t forget, they needed the Chiefs backups to win at San Diego to get into the playoffs in 2013, and if Ryan Succop had made a 41-yard field goal in the final seconds of regulation, it would have happened.

Even if the Steelers lose Sunday, there’s a back road they could take to the playoffs if the Titans lose to the Texans, the Jaguars lose to the visiting Colts and the Raiders fail to win at Denver.

No matter how it plays out, the Steelers will have to do some scoreboard watching in Week 17, just like last year. After a 7-2-1 start in 2018, it was kind of an indignity to have to watch the Heinz Field Jumbotron hoping for a Browns win over the Ravens.

This year, considering all that’s happened, just playing meaningful football in Week 17 is an accomplishment.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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