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(Sunday, January 23rd)
Final Score: Pittsburgh 24, NY Jets 19
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - The Steelers are headed back to the Super Bowl, but only after nearly blowing a 24-point lead in the AFC Championship Game, as Ben Roethlisberger helped run out the clock to give Pittsburgh a narrow 24-19 victory over the stubborn New York Jets.
William Gay's defensive touchdown gave the Steelers a 24-point lead late in a one-sided first half that saw the Steelers outgain their counterparts, 231-50.
The Jets rallied behind Mark Sanchez, who threw a pair of second-half scores, including one to Jerricho Cotchery that pulled New York within 24-19 with 3:06 to play.
Roethlisberger had the final say, though, completing a big first-down pass to Heath Miller to extinguish New York's final timeouts, then finding Antonio Brown on the run to move the chains after the two-minute warning, sealing the win and Pittsburgh's record-tying eighth trip to the Super Bowl.
"We weren't going to play not to lose, that's why we threw the ball to Heath on the bootleg...and ultimately threw a 3rd-and-6 to Antonio Brown," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, who guided the team to a Super Bowl title over Arizona two seasons ago. "All these journeys are adversity- filled...That's why I'm happy and appreciative of our effort."
Rashard Mendenhall ran for a tough 121 yards with a score against the Jets, the third-stingiest run defense in the league.
Roethlisberger was intercepted twice and completed just 10-of-19 passes for 133 yards, but can now join rare company with his third ring if he can lead the Steelers past the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV on February 6 in Dallas.
Green Bay edged the Chicago Bears, 21-14, to win the NFC title earlier Sunday.
Sanchez, who ended with 233 yards on 20-of-33 efficiency, was shaken up when Ike Taylor blind-sided him late in the first half, causing a fumble that Gay recovered and returned 19 yards for a seemingly comfortable 24-0 lead with 1:13 remaining in the half.
The gritty second-year quarterback stayed in the game and guided the Jets into field goal range, and Nick Folk's 42-yard kick just before halftime gave the visitors some momentum.
The second half began with Shonn Greene's 23-yard run, nearly half the amount of yardage the Jets had in the opening 30 minutes. A few plays later, Santonio Holmes got behind the secondary and hauled in Sanchez's heave for a revitalizing 45-yard touchdown.
A roughing the punter penalty extended Pittsburgh's next drive, and despite Roethlisberger throwing an interception a short time later, the Jets didn't threaten again until midway through the final stanza.
Even then, though, the Steelers came up with a big defensive stop. On 1st-and- goal from the two, Greene was stopped for just a yard before Sanchez threw a pair of incompletions, the second one getting knocked down at the line of scrimmage by LaMarr Woodley. On fourth down, LaDainian Tomlinson was stuffed for no gain, ending an eight-minute drive that went for naught.
"I couldn't get the ball up to extend it. They just did a great job of piling it up and stopping us," Tomlinson said.
A bad exchange between Roethlisberger and center Doug Legursky -- Maurkice Pouncey's injury replacement -- resulted in a safety with 7:38 to play to keep the Jets in the game.
New York needed 4 1/2 minutes to score again, doing so when Cotchery caught a quick out and went in for a four-yard TD.
Opting to kick deep rather than go for the onside kick, the Jets gave up a 27- yard return to Brown, and Roethlisberger's first-down throws sealed the outcome and another title for the AFC North champions.
The Jets, who beat the Steelers on the same field in Week 15, lost in the AFC title game for the second straight season. They were trying to join the Packers as a rare No. 6 seed to advance to the Super Bowl.
"We played a good half, we just never played a good game," a humbled Rex Ryan said of his Jets. "If you plan on beating [Pittsburgh] you better put four quarters together and we didn't do that today."
The Steelers needed a comeback to get by Baltimore in the Divisional round last week, but jumped out early on Sunday.
They held the ball for the first nine minutes of the game, keyed by a 12-yard scramble from Roethlisberger on 3rd-and-12 from the Jets' 25-yard line. Mendenhall powered his way in from a yard out to finish off the 15-play, 66- yard march for the early 7-0 lead.
The Jets punted in enemy territory on their first touch, then went three-and- out following Bryan Thomas' interception of a tipped Roethlisberger pass.
The Steelers countered with a run-heavy drive sparked by Mendenhall's 35-yard gallop down the right sideline. They stalled inside the five, and Shaun Suisham's 20-yard kick made it 10-0 with 6:51 left in the half.
"We knew we were going to have a chance to run the ball well," Mendenhall said during the post-game celebration. "The offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage."
Roethlisberger showed off his arm on the next Pittsburgh possession -- hitting Miller for 24 yards and Emmanuel Sanders for 20 more -- before scoring with his legs on a two-yard bootleg to the right.
Pouncey, Pittsburgh's rookie Pro Bowl center, suffered an apparent ankle injury during the first drive of the game and did not return...Roethlisberger's first interception was his first in 198 passes...Holmes, the Super Bowl MVP two seasons ago while with Pittsburgh, was held to two catches for 61 yards...Tomlinson gained just 16 yards on nine carries, while Greene went for 52 yards on the same amount of touches...The Steelers gained 56 yards in the second half, compared to New York's 239...The Steelers improved to 8-7 all-time in AFC title games, while the Jets are 0-4, reaching their lone Super Bowl after winning the AFL title in 1968.
01/23 23:30:22 ET
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