PITTSBURGH - Troy Polamalu watched from the sidelines in sweats. So did James Harrison. The running game couldn't get going and the Pittsburgh Steelers couldn't seem to stop the referees from reaching into their pockets for yellow flags.
And still, it didn't matter.
The Steelers don't lose home openers. And they don't lose consecutive games. And they almost never lose to the New York Jets.
linebacker LaMarr Woodley (56) and the rest of the
Steelers made things hard on Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets on Sunday.
So don't expect them to get too fired up over the 27-10 drubbing.
"We were coming home and we knew what we had to do," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
It's what the Steelers have always done under coach Mike Tomlin when they're up against it.
Faced with going 0-2 for the first time in a decade, Pittsburgh smothered the Jets in the second half while looking very much like a team ready to be in the mix for AFC supremacy yet again.
"During times of adversity you get an opportunity to display your football character," Tomlin said. "We've got a bunch of high character guys and veteran guys that know the drill and understand the urgency of moments such as these."
The Steelers (1-1) improved to 6-0 in home openers under Tomlin and still haven't lost back-to-back games since 2009, delivering on a day when two of the best defensive players in football sat out with injuries.
No matter. Ryan Mundy overcame a sloppy start to fill in quite nicely while Polamalu nursed a strained right calf and the linebackers didn't miss a beat even with Harrison sitting out a second straight game while coming back from right knee surgery.
"I think it just says that we understood the moment," safety Ryan Clark said.
Clark finished with a team-high eight tackles in his return after skipping a 31-19 loss to Denver due to a sickle cell trait that makes it dangerous for him to exert himself at high altitude. Mundy, making just the fifth start of his career, had five tackles and added a fumble recovery on a botched New York punt return in the third quarter.
"I just like to be flexible," Mundy said. "Whatever (Clark or Polamalu) feel comfortable doing and whatever position they want to play during a particular play, I just play off of them."
Pittsburgh limited the Jets to just 91 yards in the second half as the secondary manhandled New York's wide receivers and the front seven was able to consistently get in the face of quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Steelers recorded two sacks, though the biggest hit of the game may have been a violent collision between Sanchez and Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the second quarter. Sanchez was scrambling when Timmons drilled him just after Sanchez let go of the ball.
Timmons earned a 15-yard personal foul penalty for the severity of the hit, but it seemed to rattle Sanchez, who completed just 6 of 22 pass attempts the rest of the way.
"We tried to put a lot more pressure on Sanchez and it worked," Woodley said. "After that he started getting rid of the ball quicker and our secondary did a great job of covering."
Being well rested certainly didn't hurt.
Pittsburgh's defense had plenty of fresh legs in the second half thanks to a series of clock-sapping drives by the offense. Ben Roethlisberger continued to embrace the short passing game installed by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley to overcome a largely ineffective running game.
The Steelers held the ball for more than 36 minutes and converted 8 of 15 third downs as Roethlisberger spread the ball to 10 different receivers.
"I think that's just that we had our offensive rhythm," said tight end Heath Miller, who had a 1-yard touchdown catch late in the first half to give Pittsburgh the lead. "All the guys that we have on that side of the ball are capable of making plays and helping us win the game."
None more than Roethlisberger, who dodged New York's pass rush to throw for 275 yards and two scores while putting up an eye-popping passer rating of 125.1.
"He steps up, he steps out, he steps sideways," New York linebacker Garrett McIntyre said of Roethlisberger. "He doesn't just step up. It's amazing what he does back there. He's been doing it for a long time; give him credit."
Even if the quarterback did his best to deflect it, pointing to a running game that found some consistency on a game-clinching 10-minute touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer combined for 31 yards on eight carries during the 75-yard march.
"When the defensive linemen and linebackers hit the offensive line hard like that," Roethlisberger said, "our linemen were able to handle it and open up holes."
And the Steelers were able to turn around what threatened to be a disastrous start to the season. Now Pittsburgh heads to Oakland (0-2) looking for some momentum heading into a bye.
"It's always good to have a win," Timmons said. "We got a win now, that's a chip off our shoulder. Now it's time to stack our chips."