Cardinals linebacker Markus Golden can't close in fast enough on Steelers quarterback Landry Jones before Jones gets off a pass during the Cards' loss in Pitsburgh.
PITTSBURGH – Landry Jones had never thrown an NFL pass before Sunday's third quarter, and as the Steelers' third-string quarterback trotted onto the field, a ferocious Cardinals defense awaited.
Up until that point, veteran signal-caller Michael Vick was 3-of-8 for six yards passing, and it was a miracle he hadn't been picked off. A hamstring injury forced Vick to the sidelines, but instead of making life miserable for Jones, the Cardinals defense had trouble stopping him.
Jones finished 8-of-12 for 168 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 149.3. He entered with the Steelers
trailing, 10-6, and led them on four scoring drives on four possessions before taking a kneeldown to finish off the 25-13 win.
"He's an NFL quarterback for a reason," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "He can throw the ball. I just think as a defense as a whole, we weren't in position to make the plays we should have made. We just let our guard down just a little bit. If you want to be a great defense, we can't do that. We have to make sure we keep our foot on the pedal at all times, no matter who is at quarterback. We have to make sure we stay focused for all 60 minutes and we didn't do that."
It helped the Steelers that star running back Le'Veon Bell got going after intermission, carrying the ball 14 times for 59 yards after a quiet first half. But Pittsburgh didn't just stick to the running game.
Jones found Martavis Bryant for an eight-yard score to give the Steelers their first lead of the game in the third quarter, then finished it off with an 88-yard touchdown pass to Bryant with 1:58 remaining in the fourth. The Steelers could have chosen to run the ball to bleed clock on the second down play, but instead coach Mike Tomlin put trust in the third-year pro.
"I'm just so thankful they gave me a shot," Jones said. "They just didn't hand the ball left and right off the bat. They let
me get out there and throw."
Defensive tackle Calais Campbell admitted the offensive balance by the Steelers with Jones in the game surprised him.
"I thought when a third-string quarterback comes in, they were going to run the ball," Campbell said. "It caught us off guard a bit."
It was a much different scenario then trying to guard against Vick, a more elusive runner but a player who doesn't have the same familiarity in the system. Jones has been with Steelers his whole career.
"He was able to make those timing throws that they needed their quarterback to make," safety Rashad Johnson said. "Early in the game, Vick was getting out of the pocket and not really throwing on time. I think that was a big thing that helped them out."
The Steelers were able to use more of the plays they have installed for Ben Roethlisberger, the normal starter who missed the game with a knee sprain. Jones more closely resembles his style, but had nowhere near the NFL credentials as the Steelers' star. For one game, at least, he played at that level.
"My hat is off to him," coach Bruce Arians said. "He played very well for a young guy to come in in that situation. He won the football game."
The Cardinals defenders felt like the onus was on them for not stopping Jones. Safety Tyrann Mathieu agreed with Peterson about the late emotional letdown.
"A lot of times you get comfortable, you may get lackadaisical, you may not get a call that you want – it all kind of affects the way you perform going forward," Mathieu said. "If we could just play four quarters like we played the first three quarters, we'll be a way better team. We got two lessons, obviously the Rams game and this game. I feel like we've been doing great, but it's just those couple of moments. It's just tough."