It may have not been a thing of beauty, but for Steelers fans, their AFC Championship game win over the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 on Sunday night at Heinz Field was as good as it gets. The Steelers jumped out to a 13-0 lead, allowed the Ravens to hang around, and then did what they do best, put the game away with a huge defensive play by safety Troy Polamalu.
It was Polamalu’s interception and return for a touchdown of Ravens QB Joe Flacco for 40 yards with 4:39 left that began for real the celebration for Steelers fans around the nation. It was that score combined with pressure all day long on Flacco that made the Steelers seventh trip to the Super Bowl possible. Flacco was just 13-for-30 for 141 yards and no TD’s and three interceptions.
The Steelers offense, put in a hole early with the loss of wide out Hines Ward, that was able to do just enough against a Ravens defense that was banged up coming in. Ben Roethlisberger made a play when he had to, running around enough to find Santonio Holmes for a 65-yard score to push the Steelers lead to 13-0 at the 14:16 mark of the second quarter. Roethlisberger was 16-for-33 for 255 yards with a score.
The Steelers though could not put the nail in the coffin on the Ravens, as they allowed them into the game as Jim Leonhard took a punt return back 42 yards to put Baltimore at the Steelers 20. A pass interference on 3rd-and-9 put the ball at the Steelers 3, and then Willis McGahee punched it in to make it 13-7.
Pittsburgh had a weird turn of events at the end of the half, as they had two golden opportunities for points, but both times were turned away. The first time Roethlisberger put a perfect pass right in the hands of rookie WR Limas Sweed, but the wide out dropped, turning a for sure TD into an incomplete pass. Then, with the team driving, Roethlisberger hit Mewelde Moore for 12 yards to the Ravens 9, but the team could not get another play off, and the clock ran out with the score still 13-7.
The Ravens did little in the third quarter, and the Steelers did put together a solid drive, as they went 11 plays and burned off 5:29 of the clock, and while the drive stalled at the Ravens 29, Jeff Reed nailed a solid 46-yard field goal to extend the Steelers lead to 16-7 heading into the final 15 minutes. The Ravens though again would not go away, as after a 21-yard punt by Mitch Berger, the Ravens went 6 plays from their own 42 and with another big pass interference call, they got the ball on the Steelers one, and McGahee went in for a score to make it 16-14 with 9:32 left.
The Steelers could not move the ball on their next possession, and had to punt to the Ravens, who pinned themselves back on a huge personal foul call that put them on the 14. After the Ravens got one first down, on a 3rd-and-13, Flacco threw short right, and Polamalu jumped the route, and took it back for a 40-yard score to ice the game at 23-14 with 4:39 left.
The final two Ravens possessions ended with a fumble and pick, as the Steelers kneeled and began the celebration as they get set for a matchup in two weeks with the Arizona Cardinals and former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and assistant coach Russ Grimm two weeks in Tampa Bay. The Steelers are early 6.5 favorites.