Terrible Towels will wave again at Super Bowl XLV in Cowboys Stadium, where the Steelers will meet the Green Bay Packers on Feb. 6 after silencing Rex Ryan’s wild bunch. Despite a near perfect first half, the Steelers almost made history by giving up the biggest lead in AFC championship history but held on to capture their eighth AFC title Sunday over the New York Jets, 24-19.
“Shoot, any time you get to the Super Bowl, it feels good,” Ben Roethlisberger said after the game. “I don’t care what you’re going through or what’s going on. We put a lot of stuff behind us early and found a way.”
|SUPER BOWL BOUND—Mike Tomlin, left, hugs quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after the Steelers’ 24-19 win over the New York Jets in the AFC Championship NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Jan. 23. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
As well as the Steelers offense played in the first half they played just as poorly in the second half. It was clearly the tale of two halves. The Steelers owned the first half 24-3, while the Jets owned the second half 16-0. The difference was a touchdown by the Steelers defense, when Ike Taylor forced a fumble by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, and William Gay grabbed the ball off the ground and scored extending the lead from 17-0 to 24-0.
The Steelers (14-4) will challenge the Green Bay Packers with a versatile attack led by Roethlisberger and running back Rashard Mendenhall who racked up 95 yards on 17 carries in the first half. He only had 26 yards in the second half as the Jets defense locked down the run, and the Steelers who were content to run on first and second down, even though the Jets were stacking the box. This led to poor field position for the Steelers and great field position for the Jets. But the Steelers defense never let up.
And with a defense led by James Harrison and Troy Palomalu, that returned a fumble for a touchdown and a goal-line stand that shut down the Jets’ comeback in the fourth quarter, it will certainly test Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers in the title game in Arlington, Texas.
That smothering defense set the tone for a frigid night at Heinz Field to end the Jets’ stunning postseason run. Ryan slammed down his headset when rookie Antonio Brown caught a pass for a first down that enabled Pittsburgh to hang on and run out the clock.
“We played a good half. We never played a good game, and that was the difference,” Ryan said after the game. “You get to this point, you’ve got to play a great game against a great opponent, and we played a good half and that was it.”
The 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.
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—both on the road—to get to Pittsburgh.
Asked if he would change anything about this season, Ryan said: “I would change the outcome of this game, and that’s the only thing I would change. We don’t need to apologize to anybody. We’ll be back, you’ll see.”
Pittsburgh set the tone early with a 66-yard march that took up the first nine minutes, with Roethlisberger displaying his scrambling skills on several plays, including a 12-yard run on third-and-12. Mendenhall reached the ball over the goal line from the 1, the final of a 15-play drive.
The loss of outstanding rookie center Maurkice Pouncey with a sprained left ankle, left the team with just one backup offensive lineman. Pouncey said he would be ready for the Super Bowl. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley had one sack, giving him a sack in six straight postseason games, an NFL record.
Aaron Rodgers ran for a score and made a TD-saving tackle in leading Green Bay into the Super Bowl with a bone-jarring 21-14 victory Sunday over Chicago. The Packers looked like they were going to blow the Bears out, but the Chicago defense finally got on track, even though their offense never showed up. Jay Cutler was clearly outplayed by Rodgers, and left the game in the first half with an injury. Second stringer Todd Collins played so poorly that he may be out of the league next season, however, third stringer Caleb Hanie looked very impressive despite throwing two picks.
Rodgers is considered by many to be the best young quarterback in the game, since taking over for Brett Favre in Green Bay. He will be a major problem for the Steelers defense, especially if the Steelers offense allows him to have excellent field position like they did Sanchez by not moving the ball in the second half.
“It’s a dream come true,” Rodgers said. “It’s an incredible feeling. I’m at a loss for words.”
The Steelers six Super Bowl victories is the most in history, so a victory this year would extend their lead. They also set a record with their 15th appearance in the AFC championship game, where they are 8-7. Mike Tomlin is on a pace to outdo the two legendary coaches that preceded him, Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll. Tomlin became the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl in 2009 and is now the youngest coach to take his team to two Super Bowls. Cowher was 1-1, and Noll 4-0.