EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) – Le’Veon Bell helped deal his former team’s playoff hopes a big blow, leading the New York Jets to a 16-10 victory over the banged-up Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.
The Steelers (8-7) entered the game controlling their postseason destiny and would have clinched a berth with wins in their final two games, but now need some help. Pittsburgh now needs to win next week at Baltimore to stay in the mix.
The Steelers also have more injury concerns as running back James Conner, center Maurkice Pouncey and quarterback Mason Rudolph all left with injuries.
Bell ran for 72 yards, including 7 on a big third-down play in the fourth quarter, on 25 carries while facing the team with which he spent his first six NFL seasons. After sitting out all last season in a contract dispute, Bell signed with the Jets (6-9) in the offseason.
Devlin Hodges, who was benched earlier in the game after throwing two interceptions, came back in early in the fourth quarter when Rudolph went out with a left shoulder injury.
Hodges had a chance to lead the Steelers to a comeback win, but fell short. His deep pass for James Washington on third-and-7 from the Jets 44 was knocked away by Marcus Maye in the end zone. On fourth down, Hodges’ pass to JuJu Smith-Schuster fell incomplete in front of a MetLife Stadium crowd that appeared to be at least half-filled by Steelers fans.
Smith-Schuster, who returned after missing four games with a knee injury, had two catches for 22 yards.
Former Steelers star wide receiver Hines Ward, now an offensive assistant on Adam Gase’s staff with the Jets, said he hoped to celebrate a win with a Gatorade shower – and he got one moments after New York’s final defensive stop sealed the win.
Hodges was 11 of 17 for 84 yards and the two interceptions, while Rudolph was 14 of 20 for 129 yards and a touchdown to Diontae Johnson that helped the Steelers erase a 10-0 deficit to tie it at halftime.
Conner, who left in the second quarter with a thigh injury, had 32 yards on six carries before leaving. Pouncey hurt his left knee at the end of the third quarter.
Sam Darnold went 16 of 26 for 183 yards and a touchdown to Robby Anderson. Bell also had four catches for 21 yards.
The Jets, who blew a 10-0 second-quarter advantage, retook the lead on Sam Ficken’s 37-yard field goal with 6 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter. The drive was helped by rookie tight end Trevon Wesco’s 32-yard catch-and-run that put New York at the Steelers 19.
Ficken’s 42-yarder with 3:11 left made it 16-10. The drive was kept alive by Bell’s 7-yard run on third-and-5 from the Steelers 39.
With thousands of Steelers fans twirling their Terrible Towels, the Jets struck first on their opening drive on Darnold’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Anderson. On third-and-9, Darnold stepped up and zipped a pass to Anderson, who reached up over two defenders on the run in the back of the end zone and came down with the ball for the score.
The 11-play, 75-yard drive prominently featured Bell, who ran for 26 yards on four carries and had two catches for 6 yards.
New York got the ball back a few minutes later when Tarell Basham made a leaping interception on a pass from Hodges, but the Jets couldn’t do anything with it and went three-and-out.
They came away with points on their next possession, though, with Ficken booting a career-best 54-yard field goal on the second play of the second quarter.
The Steelers got to the Jets 19 in the second quarter, helped by a horse-collar penalty on Arthur Maulet, but Maye picked off Hodges in the end zone to keep Pittsburgh off the scoreboard.
That was it for Hodges, who was pulled by Mike Tomlin in favor of Rudolph with 9:20 left in the opening half.
Hodges, who started his fourth straight game, was 7 of 9 for 53 yards – and the two INTs before leaving.
Chris Boswell’s 49-yard field goal with 1:18 left in the first half got the Steelers on the scoreboard and cut the deficit to 10-3.
Four plays later, T.J. Watt punched the ball out of Darnold’s hands for a strip-sack and recovered to give Pittsburgh the ball in New York territory and a chance to at least edge closer.
Instead, the Steelers were able to tie it with 4 seconds before halftime on Rudolph’s 29-yard pass to Diontae Johnson, who zipped past Bless Austin in coverage for the touchdown – sending the fans decked out in black and gold into a tizzy.
Steelers: Finish the regular season at NFC North champion Baltimore next Sunday.
Jets: End the season at AFC East rival Buffalo next Sunday.
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