Steelers down Ravens for AFC title - NFL - Yahoo! Sports
Steelers down Ravens for AFC title
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By ALAN ROBINSON, AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP)—The Steelers outhit the Ravens and outplayed them behind a steady-as-he-goes Ben Roethlisberger, marching into the Super Bowl behind a defense that brought back memories of their storied Steel Curtain.
Pittsburgh ended its AFC championship game home-field jinx by beating Baltimore 23-14 on Sunday and Troy Polamalu ended any chance the Ravens had for a comeback with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Tampa.
The matchup is intriguing—Mike Tomlin vs. the Cardinals’ Ken Whisenhunt, the offensive coordinator when the Steelers won the Super Bowl three seasons ago who went to Arizona only after being passed over for Pittsburgh’s job.
Whisenhunt and his top assistant, Russ Grimm, left after the Steelers unexpectedly hired Tomlin, who has done something even Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher couldn’t do by taking Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl in his second season.
The Steelers harassed rookie Joe Flacco all game long. Normally unflappable, he looked lost at times and finished 13-for-30 for 141 yards and three costly interceptions.
Roethlisberger, picked off four times by New England in his rookie-year AFC title game, was a steady 16-of-33 for 255 yards, and most importantly, no interceptions, showing how much experience can matter in a game so big.
After Polamalu’s twisting, turning, zigzagging run sealed it with 4:39 to play, Steelers fans began singing “Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl!”— and the franchise is, for a seventh time.
The game was held up minutes later when Willis McGahee, who scored both Baltimore touchdowns, was carted off the field after taking a frightening hit to the helmet by Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark.
The Ravens said he had “significant neck pain” but movement in his arms and legs.
Only the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, and Pittsburgh can be the first to win six. If the Steelers beat Arizona, the 36-year-old Tomlin would be the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl.
“They did it tonight the way we’ve done it all year,” Tomlin said. “We’ve got a very humble group, a very selfless group.”
The Steelers proved it is possible to beat a good team three times in a season, and will now face a team they share a history with—they were merged as Card-Pitt during World War II in 1944 when the Cardinals were in Chicago and went 0-10, the only winless team in Steelers history.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney recalls them being nicknamed the Car-Pitts “because everybody walked all over us.”
Earlier in the day, before Whisenhunt knew the outcome of the Steelers-Ravens game, he said he wanted to match up against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
“I mean, I’m glad we’re playing in it, but the reason I’m here is because of my time with Pittsburgh,” Whisenhunt said, “and I am very grateful for that.”
Nobody walks over these Steelers, a hard-hitting, tough-guy team with the NFL’s best defense, at least statistically, in nearly 20 years. The unit is a worthy descendant of the Steel Curtain teams of the 1970s that virtually defined the way defense is supposed to be played.
They spent the game pressuring Flacco, who couldn’t become the first rookie to take a team to the Super Bowl. He was outplayed as badly as Roethlisberger was by the Patriots’ Tom Brady in his first AFC title game four years ago, and the mismatch at the quarterback may have made the difference.
Maybe it helped that the two athletes largely responsible for Pittsburgh’s last two major sports championships—former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and Penguins co-owner and Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux—were among the record crowd of 65,350 in Heinz Field.
Despite sweeping the Ravens during the season—four of the five teams that had a chance to sweep in a conference title game have done so—with tight 4- and 3-point wins, the Steelers had a right to be nervous.
The franchise, for all of the success it has enjoyed while playing in a record-tying 14 AFC title games, had lost an unprecedented four of its five most recent conference championship games in Pittsburgh. The run of losses almost made the Steelers glad to go on the road for their entire Super Bowl run three seasons ago, when they won the fifth of their record-tying five titles.
The Ravens and Steelers own the NFL’s nastiest ongoing rivalry, one that has created a shared dislike and, at he same time, a mutual respect. This game was expected to low-scoring, physical and tense and it was, especially after Baltimore came back from an early 13-0 deficit to get to within 16-14 on McGahee’s second short touchdown run of the game, a 1-yarder with 9:32 remaining.
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