"We're not going to quit," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "Obviously, it wasn't the start we wanted, but the men in this locker room believe there's a chance that something great could come out of this if we all work toward it."
The Steelers (1-4) were off to their worst start since 1968, when they lost their first six games during a season in which they finished 2-11-1.
"Oh, it's big," Roethlisberger said.
The victory was also the 600th in franchise history, including the postseason, as Pittsburgh became only the fourth team to reach the milestone and the first from the AFC.
"It's tough because when you have that zero, your mind automatically goes to, `Let's get this first win,'" safety Ryan Clark said. "Now, you're just trying to win each game and there's not as much pressure on each and every play."
Pittsburgh was coming off a bye after last playing two weeks ago in London, a 34-27 loss to Minnesota at Wembley Stadium. The Steelers appeared quite a bit sharper than New York, which had a short week to prepare after a 30-28 win at Atlanta last Monday night.
"I think getting away (helped), having a bye and everyone looking in the mirror, to see what you can do to help this team win," said Keisel, who left with a rib injury but doesn't expect to be sidelined.
Geno Smith was intercepted twice by a Steelers defense that entered as the only team without a takeaway. The last came with the Jets (3-3) at the Steelers 12 with just over 3 minutes left when Smith was hit by Jarvis Jones as he threw. The wobbly pass was picked off by Lawrence Timmons -- sealing the win for Pittsburgh.
"I'm just frustrated to lose the game," Smith said. "I understand there's going to be growing pains and things to learn, but we don't go out there with that mindset."
It could be a costly loss for the Jets. Running back Bilal Powell (shoulder), wide receiver Clyde Gates (shoulder), cornerback Kyle Wilson (head) and running back Mike Goodson (knee) all left and didn't return. There was no immediate word on the severity of the injuries.
"They outplayed us," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "We have to play with more consistency, obviously. We're striving for consistency and we're not quite there.
"We have to get there in a hurry."
Smith, who was turnover-free at Atlanta while throwing for three touchdowns, was 19 of 34 for 201 yards.
Sanders gave Pittsburgh a 16-6 lead just 2:30 into the second half with his 55-yard grab. On a third-and-1 play, he got in front of Antonio Cromartie — who was questionable with a hyperextended knee — and was wide open as Roethlisberger's throw arrived. Sanders sprinted the remaining 20 yards untouched before doing a leaping somersault into the end zone.
"I looked up and saw Emmanuel running by himself and kind of had to hesitate for a second because I couldn't believe he was so wide open," Roethlisberger said. "The only thought in my head was, `Don't overthrow him.'"
Pittsburgh got its first takeaway of the season — a span of 18-plus quarters — on the Jets' next possession when Clark picked off Smith's throw to Konrad Reuland into triple coverage in the red zone. The rookie later said he was trying to throw the ball away.
"We have the mindset that we can climb out of this hole together," Keisel said. "This was a step in the right direction."
NOTES: Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau improved to 16-2 in his career against rookie QBs. ... Since 2010, the Steelers are 14-1 when Roethlisberger's passer rating is above 100. It was 113.8 vs. the Jets. ... Steelers OT Levi Brown, acquired last week from Arizona, was a late scratch after injuring his right triceps during pregame warmups. TE David Johnson left early in the first quarter with an injured left wrist and didn't return. ... The Jets inducted DT Marty Lyons, who played for the team from 1979-89, into their Ring of Honor at halftime.