By Ben Fractenberg
MANHATTAN — The New York Jets look like they got some of their swagger back.
The Jets (10-4) scored their first offensive touchdown since Thanksgiving Day and their defense stopped a last-minute drive by the Pittsburgh Steelers in a 22-17 road win for New York at Heinz Field on Sunday.
Gang Green trailed the Steelers by a touchdown before quarterback Mark Sanchez scampered for a 7-yard touchdown on third and short to tie the game 17-17 with 5:14 left to go in the third quarter.
It marked New York's first offensive touchdown in three games and started a run of 12 unanswered points by the Jets.
New York's day started with a flourish as wide receiver Brad Smith returned the opening kick off 97 yards for his second return touchdown of the season to give the Jets an early 7-0 lead.
Sanchez spoke afterward about head coach Rex Ryan's speech to the team the night before the pivotal AFC match up.
"He just challenged us to come up and play the way we know how — to maximize our potential, and I think we did that," Sanchez told the Associated Press.
The Jets added a 34-yard Nick Folk field goal and got a safety when defensive end Jason Taylor tackled Steelers running back Mewelde Moore in the end zone to put New York up 22-17 with just over two minutes to go in the fourth quarter.
Pittsburgh took over after a Jets punt and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rallied his team one last time. Roethlisberger drove down the field with his passing and scrambling during the game's final two minutes. The Steelers got to the Jets 8-yard line, but Roethlisberger failed to connect on back-to-back pass attempts in the end zone to tight end Matt Spaeth.
"A loss would have been devastating," Jets right guard Brandon Moore told the New York Post. "The season would have probably been over. You could feel the intensity from the coaches and the speeches they gave. Guys stepped up to the challenge."
The win snapped the Jets two-game losing streak and greatly improved their chances of earning a playoff bid.
"We were sinking," linebacker Bart Scott told the Daily News. "We went from fighting for the best record in the league to possibly fighting for the playoffs if we lost."
The Jets can earn a playoff berth with a win at the Chicago Bears next Sunday or a loss by either the San Diego Chargers or Jacksonville Jaguars next week. New York finishes the season at home against the Buffalo Bills on Jan. 2.