PITTSBURGH (KDKA/AP) – The Steelers are Super Bowl bound once again after jumping out to a big lead before halftime and holding off a furious second half comeback attempt by the New York Jets.
After a week of build up, excitement hit a fevered pitch Sunday across Pittsburgh and the showdown over on the North Shore didn’t disappoint.
The Steelers headed into halftime with a big 24-3 lead and managed to hold off the Jets as they tried to overcome the deficit. The final score: 24-19.
This ending is a much happier one for Steelers Nation than when the two teams met in Week 15 and the Jets came out on top 22-17.
Now, the Steelers have earned a one-way ticket to Dallas, and for the third time in six seasons, Terrible Towels will twirl at the Super Bowl.
Ben Roethlisberger saved his best pass for last. Big Ben tiptoed around the backfield, hurried by Jets defenders on a third-and-6 from the New York 40.
The quarterback rolled right and hit Antonio Brown for a 14-yard gain with less than two minutes left to seal the victory and win the AFC title.
It held off what could have been a remarkable comeback by the Jets from a 21-point halftime deficit.
Three kneel-downs after Roethlisberger’s big play, the quarterback raised an arm in the air and got mobbed by teammates.
He finished 10 of 19 for 133 yards and two interceptions, though his mobility did give the Jets trouble.
“We’ve been through a lot as a team, personally and it just feels good. Anytime you can get to the Super Bowl it feels good. I don’t care want you’re going through, what’s going on, but we as a team put a lot of stuff behind us early and found a way to get it done,” said Roethlisberger. “We weren’t always the prettiest team, but we had guys step up and fill in for guys in critical times in games and during the season. We had some young guys step up and make some plays that you don’t normally see. So, I’m just really proud of that group of guys.”
The Jets did get a 45-yard touchdown pass from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes – the hero of Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl victory two years ago – and a safety after a goal-line stand by the Steelers. But the early hole was too deep.
Now, the Steelers go on to face the Green Bay Packers in Dallas in two weeks.
You can bet that unit led by James Harrison, which shut down the Jets’ comeback in the fourth quarter, will test Aaron Rodgers. That overwhelming defense set the tone for most of the frigid night at Heinz Field to end the Jets’ stunning postseason run.
Ryan slammed down his headset when Brown caught the pass for the first down that allowed the Steelers to hang on and run out the clock.
The Steelers (14-4) will challenge the Packers’ defense with a versatile attack led by running back Rashard Mendenhall and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers ended the Jets’ season with a dominant first half. Mendenhall had 95 of his 121 yards and a touchdown.
Roethlisberger has moved on from a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season to take Pittsburgh to its eighth Super Bowl; the Steelers own the most titles, six. He scrambled time and again for key gains, often against shoddy tackling.
At game’s end, he kneeled on the field, his face buried in an AFC championship T-shirt.
The cocky Jets seemed to have left everything they had in New England last Sunday. There was little trash talking all week and even less fire early in their biggest game since winning the championship 42 years ago. They haven’t been back to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers are regulars, including titles for the 2005 and 2008 teams, both led by Roethlisberger and a fierce defense sparked by play-making safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu, his hair pouring from under his helmet as the black-and-gold signature towels flowed throughout Heinz Field, didn’t have to do a whole lot this time. Not with the way his teammates whipped the Jets at the line of scrimmage before a spirited New York surge in the second half.
And too often, New York’s defense was like a swinging gate that Roethlisberger and Mendenhall ran through with ease.
“I’m just so excited and happy for those guys. We moved one step closer to our goal,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “That team that we played today is a very competitive and very good one and very well coached football team.”
New York (13-6) failed for the fourth time in the AFC title game since 1969, when the Jets won perhaps the most significant of all Super Bowls. It was a devastating finish, particularly after the Jets beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, then Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road to get to Pittsburgh.
The Steelers snapped New York’s hopes of making the Super Bowl a sixth-seed spectacular; the Packers are the NFC’s No. 6 seed.
Tomlin had his Steelers eager for the fight from the outset, while Ryan’s guys were flat until it was too late.
The Packers open as 2½-point favorites for the game Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium.
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