Steelers rally behind backup Jones, stun Cardinals
PITTSBURGH — The wide receiver with the seemingly unlimited potential but serious baggage flipped in joy. The third-string quarterback who spent two-plus years having to defend his roster spot jumped into the arms of one of his offensive linemen.
For Martavis Bryant, it was relief. For Landry Jones, it was validation. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, it was a win as unlikely as it was emphatic.
Dominated for a half, the Steelers rallied for a 25-13 over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday led by two players who have spent portions of their young careers either buried in the doghouse or depth chart or both.
Jones threw a pair of touchdown passes to Bryant after relieving Michael Vick, the second a spectacular 88-yard catch-and-run that sealed it with 1:58 to play. Bryant, active for the first time this season after being suspended four games for violating the league's substance abuse policy and missing another with a knee injury, somersaulted across the goal line in joy while Jones was thrust into the air by guard David DeCastro.
"I just can't believe I got in the game," Jones said. "I'm still kind of reeling from it."
So are the Cardinals (4-2), who overwhelmed the Steelers (4-2) in the first half but only had a seven-point lead to show for it. Once Jones replaced Vick, who completed just 3 of 8 passes for 6 yards before exiting in the third quarter with a right hamstring injury, Pittsburgh's offense looked like the one Ben Roethlisberger guided before spraining his left knee in Week 3.
Jones found Bryant for an 8-yard touchdown that put the Steelers in front, the second of five straight second-half possessions in which Pittsburgh scored.
"Landry was like Ben's little brother out there," Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell said. "He was out there making checks and everything and it brought us back like 'Dang, Landry really got this. "After we scored the first touchdown, it was like a confidence booster."
Jones finished 8 of 12 for 168 yards and the two scores. Bryant caught six passes for 137 yards, Bell ran for 88 yards and rookie Chris Boswell kicked four field goals as Pittsburgh steadied itself the moment Jones entered the huddle.
"He played very well for a young guy to come in in that situation," Arizona coach Bruce Arians, a York High graduate, said. "He won the football game."
Carson Palmer threw for 421 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. John Brown caught 10 balls for 196 yards but the Cardinals collapsed in the second half to ruin Arians' homecoming.
The longtime Pittsburgh offensive coordinator was pushed out by the Steelers after the 2011 season, something he jokingly called a "refirement." Nearly four years — and two NFL Coach of the Year Awards — later, Arians returned to Heinz Field with one of the best teams in football.
For a half, the Cardinals certainly looked like it.
Arizona controlled the opening 30 minutes, outgaining the Steelers 279-59 and doing whatever it wanted. All that dominance, however, only translated into a 10-3 lead.
The Cardinals had a touchdown wiped out on an offensive pass interference penalty, saw a second-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 25 turn into a punt and allowed the Steelers to hang around far too long.
"We were throwing the ball around the field," Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "We felt just like eventually we were going to get down there and score and that was just the feeling you had. Unfortunately, that never happened."
Jones and Pittsburgh's opportunistic defense didn't let it. When Boswell drilled a 28-yard field goal to put the Steelers up 18-13 with 7:19 to play the Cardinals responded by moving to the Pittsburgh 20. Steelers safety Mike Mitchell picked off Palmer in the end zone.
The victory keeps Pittsburgh within two games of unbeaten Cincinnati in the AFC North. There's a chance Roethlisberger could return next week against Kansas City (1-5), but Jones' performance against one of the league's top defenses means the Steelers will have options if Roethlisberger isn't quite ready.
NOTES: Pittsburgh LT Kelvin Beachum tore the ACL in his left knee in the second quarter and is done for the season. ... Arizona lost tight end Darren Fells with a shoulder injury. ... Fitzgerald finished with eight catches for 93 yards on the same field where he starred collegiately at Pittsburgh. ... The Cardinals were penalized nine times for 111 yards. ... Arizona hosts Baltimore on Oct. 26.