Backup tight end Spaeth stunned by two key drops
Matt Spaeth watched it all slip through his hands, just as Ben Roethlisberger's passes escaped his grasp in the end zone.
The Steelers tight end had a chance to provide a thrilling end to Sunday's game against the New York Jets, to bookend his first touchdown reception of the season with a game-winner in the final nine seconds.
And he dropped the ball -- twice.
A stunned Spaeth was apologetic after the Steelers' 22-17 loss to the Jets at Heinz Field, knowing he could have capped an 82-yard drive in the final 2:08 with a 10-yard touchdown catch.
"I could have been the hero," said Spaeth, starting a second consecutive game for Heath Miller (concussion). "Guys made plays all day, especially on that last drive, and it was my turn to step up and make a play, and I couldn't do it."
A scrambling Roethlisberger looked for his tallest target twice in the final two plays, although the 6-foot-7, 270-pound Spaeth cut in front of intended receiver Emmanuel Sanders in the back of the end zone on second-and-goal from the 10 only to let the pass go through his hands.
"It was a great throw," Spaeth said. "I should have caught it."
With two seconds left, Roethlisberger lofted a pass to Spaeth in the left corner of the end zone, but the tight end bobbled the ball before cornerback Marquice Cole broke up the play as time expired.
Roethlisberger, however, would hear nothing about Spaeth being the goat.
"I would never blame Matt," Roethlisberger said. "I thought he made a great effort. He played a great game today. He made a lot of big-time catches, big-time plays. He did a great job of stepping up, not knowing especially if Heath is going to play. I'll take this one on me because I need to make more big plays. Never blame those guys or anybody else. It's on me."
The Jets had struggled to contain tight ends all season, allowing 100-yard games to New England's Aaron Hernandez (six catches for 101) and Houston's Joel Dreessen (four for 106). Spaeth's 9-yard touchdown catch of a Roethlisberger frozen rope between two defenders capped a 16-play, 96-yard drive to tie the game at 7-7 midway through the first quarter, but he finished with just three receptions for 27 yards despite being targeted eight times.
Spaeth was hoping for a big game but didn't deliver what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin would call a "Heath-like" performance.
"Heath's an unbelievable player. We missed him today, but I felt like I had a good chance to step up and fill in his shoes," Spaeth said. "Unfortunately, it didn't work out that way in the end."