Steelers ground Jets and advance to Super Bowl
PITTSBURGH (Reuters) - The Pittsburgh Steelers silenced the tough-talking New York Jets with a 24-19 win in the AFC Championship on Sunday setting up a Super Bowl showdown with the Green Bay Packers.
While the Steelers and their fans celebrated a third trip to the Super Bowl in six years, the Jets were left crushed and for the first time this season were lost for words after seeing their season end with a defeat in the AFC title game for the second consecutive year.
The Steelers will now travel to Dallas for a February 6 meeting with the Packers, who booked their Super Bowl ticket with a 21-14 win over the Chicago Bears in the NFC title game.
"Let us bath in this (victory), we'll be ready to deal with those guys (Packers) tomorrow," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "There are 32 teams that start this journey and now there are two left."
The agonizing defeat ended a spectacular playoff run by the brash Jets, who had reached the AFC Championship recording road wins over the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots.
But Heinz Field has never been a happy hunting ground for the New Yorkers, who have won just once in nine trips to Pittsburgh since the NFL-AFL merger.
"We came up short tonight, just like we did last year, one game away from the big game," offered a subdued Jets coach Rex Ryan. "We played a good half, we didn't play a good game."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had an unspectacular game completing just 10 of 19 passes for 133 yards and two interceptions but he also ran for a key touchdown underlining his status as the NFL's ultimate post-season performer as he improved his playoff record to 10-2.
The cocky Jets had often talked a better game than they played but had backed up their bravado in the playoffs and looked ready to do so again falling behind 24-0 before launching a stirring second half rally that threw a fright into a frigid crowd.
The game was one of the coldest played in Pittsburgh with temperatures a teeth-chattering 15 Fahrenheit at kickoff.
But the Arctic like conditions could not spoil the party as fans from both teams, some wearing snowmobile suits and winter survival gear, packed into Heinz Field after a day spent tailgating in freezing temperatures.
The buildup to the AFC championship was strangely subdued, compared to the trash-talking and chest-thumping the Jets had engaged in ahead of their clashes with the Colts and Patriots.
The respect was well deserved as the Steelers scored on their first possession and never trailed after Roethlisberger engineered a time-crunching, nine-minute, 15-play scoring drive capped by Rashard Mendenhall diving over from the one.
In the second quarter, Shaun Suisham added a 20-yard field goal and on the next possession Roethlisberger scampered over from two-yards out to cap another clinical 66-yard drive to jump in front 17-0.
The Steelers top-ranked defense also got in on the action when Ike Taylor stripped New York quarterback Mark Sanchez of the ball and William Gay scooped up the loose ball and returned it 19 yards for another score.
With 14 seconds left in the half, Nick Folk finally put New York on the scoreboard with a 42-yard field goal.
The Jets then flew out of the half, Sanchez hooking up with Santonio Holmes for a 45-yard touchdown to trim the Pittsburgh advantage to 24-10 and suddenly, a game that had threatened to become a rout was transformed into a nail-biter as the Jets took command.
The Jets put a scare into the crowd of 66,662 - the biggest to ever to attend a Steelers game - when they worked the ball down to the Pittsburgh one early in the fourth quarter.
The Steelers defense denied the Jets a touchdown but New York would not come away empty-handed, sacking Roethlisberger for a safety after Pittsburgh had regained possession.
There was more drama as the Jets rally continued, Sanchez hitting Jerricho Cotchery with a four-yard touchdown strike to trim the Steelers lead to 24-19 but the Steelers dug in and were able to run out the clock to clinch a nervous victory.
"We knew we'd come back," said Ryan. "Everybody's doubted us all year but we thought we could win the game."
(Editing by Frank Pingue/Greg Stutchbury)