Adam Gase, Sam Darnold
ESNY Graphic, Getty Images

The New York Jets won their sixth game of the season—over the Pittsburgh Steelers—in an unapologetic, ugly fashion.

Robby Sabo

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—Instant classic doesn’t come to mind. A mind-blowing 60 minutes of football isn’t a phrase uttered by anybody who watched this one. Grace, style and flawless action are thoughts that shouldn’t reside within the closest five counties from MetLife Stadium at the moment.

The New York Jets’ 16-10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday featured a whole lot of ugly.

And they’re not about to apologize.

“Yeah, we knew that this was going to be the kind of game this was going to be,” Jets head coach Adam Gase said after the win. “We knew it would be low scoring.

He wasn’t kidding. The Jets offense put up just 259 yards of total offense. The team’s only touchdown came on the first drive of the game, yet again, in true 2019 fashion.

On 3rd-and-9 at the Pittsburgh 23, Sam Darnold polished off a brilliant opening drive with a strike to Robby Anderson down the seam.

Darnold read four-man rush and single-high that eventually turned into a Cover 3, which means hitting the seam—the soft spot in the zone—turned out to be the appropriate measure. Anderson displayed strong hands to come down with another Jets opening-drive score.

It was beautiful. Everything after that… not so much.

Darnold finished with 183 yards and that lone touchdown on 16-of-26 passing. The USC product turned in an uninspiring, often-inaccurate day, oftentimes showcasing overwhelming fear of turning the ball over.

That was the game plan, and, interestingly, it didn’t strip the kid of any enjoyment.

“Yeah, it was a dog fight out there,” Darnold said in the locker room. “It was fun, though.”

Managing things served as the name of the game for Darnold and the offense. Le’Veon Bell, who had fun when entering the stadium donned in black and gold, did pick up a fraction of revenge against his former team, but his 72 yards on 25 carries (an awful 2.9 yards-per-carry) didn’t exactly change the team’s rushing narrative through 15 weeks.

To play defense-first, conservative ball is a rarity in today’s NFL. The much-criticized Jets’ head coach doesn’t care. To him, a win is a win.

“We talked about it on Wednesday,” Gase said. “It would have to be one of those games where we do a good job on offense of not turning it over, doing a good job as far as field position, and our defense knew they would have to play a really good game.”

Gregg Williams turned out as the top star of the win. With Jamal Adams and Brian Poole both back, the Jets were afforded the right to get back to their defensive identity: feature the strength, the safeties and the nickel back.

Pressures coming from all angles, at times, suffocated the Steelers quarterbacks. Neville Hewitt, Kyle Phillips, Foley Fatukasi and Quinnen Williams (who picked up his, untouched, on a busted Steelers scheme) all picked up sacks. When the pressure didn’t hit home, the defensive backs did the job, oftentimes in a one-on-one situation.

It wasn’t all positive for the defense. With nine seconds to go in the first half, the Steelers displayed an impressive piece of coaching in today’s NFL when they struck gold.

Mason Rudolph hit Diontae Johnson for a 29-yard score on a go-route. What looked to be a Cover 3 Cloud (cornerback Bless Austin joining Marcus Maye and Jamal Adams in a three-deep look), resulted in Johnson completely burning young Austin. To open the third quarter, Maurice Canady replaced Austin opposite Arthur Maulet.

As ugly as the moment was, the team’s fight didn’t fade. Neither did Gase’s conservative attitude.

After stopping Pittsburgh late in the fourth, the Jets started a drive at their own 34 with 1:53 to go in regulation. Gase rushed the ball three-straight times despite Mike Tomlin still possessing all three timeouts and the Jets up only six.

In an NFL that’s turned the pass interference call into the regularity of Tic-Tacs, trusting any defense in any situation to shut down the opponent with the game on the line is a tough ask. In this ugly affair, it worked like a charm.

Williams sent seven at Devlin Hodges on a final 4th-down pass intended for JuJu Smith-Schuster that ultimately harmlessly fell to the turf with Brian Poole on the case. No zone blitz, no elaborate zone coverage, no agile pass defense with an inside arm… just pure ugliness.

Even players returning from injury had to put up an ugly fight.

“I battled man,” Jamal Adams said in reference to his first game back from injury. “I battled.”

The team’s sixth victory over the season keeps the organization’s hopes alive that they won’t lose 10 or more games for the fourth-consecutive season.

That’s one more ugly stat this ugly win over the Steelers the Jets would love to avoid. For now, the New York Jets will embrace ugly until talent, culture and an overall football feel will allow otherwise.

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