(Saturday, January 15th)
Final Score: Pittsburgh 31, Baltimore 24
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - Antonio Brown's artful 58-yard catch set up Rashard Mendenhall's two-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, lifting Pittsburgh to a 31-24 win over Baltimore on Saturday and sending the Steelers to another AFC Championship Game.
The Steelers and Ravens are known for playing gritty, smashmouth games in a division rivalry where the games are often decided by just a few points.
But grace got the winning points in this one.
Ben Roethlisberger spotted Brown behind two defenders on a 3rd-and-19 play and aired the ball out down the right sideline. Brown stumbled, but secured the ball by holding it against his helmet with his right hand as he ran out of bounds.
Aided by a defensive holding call, the Steelers scored five plays later when Mendenhall made a sharp cut at the line and burst into the end zone with 1:33 remaining.
After the touchdown, Ravens receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped a pass behind the first-down marker on 4th-and-18, all but ending the game and sending the Steelers to their fifth AFC Championship Game in 10 years.
"Those two teams, that's Hagler-Hearns right there," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said, the latest boxing metaphor used for the series. "We respect the heck out of those guys."
Roethlisberger finished 19-of-32 for 226 yards and two touchdown passes for the AFC North champions -- both scores coming after Ravens turnovers in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark had five tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in the game.
Joe Flacco passed for 125 yards and a touchdown for the Ravens, but he was intercepted once and also lost a fumble. Both turnovers led to Steelers points.
Brown's catch was a highlight-worthy moment that Tomlin called a "signature Steelers" play.
"There's no such thing as a primary guy," on 3rd-and-19, Tomlin said. "Hopefully someone is open. He was."
Hines Ward, who caught an eight-yard touchdown in the third quarter, called Roethlisberger's pass "a perfect ball."
But the game was really decided by turnovers.
Baltimore scored 14 straight points off turnovers in the first half, taking a 21-7 lead into the locker room, while Pittsburgh scored 17 points off three turnovers in the second half to move in front.
"Up 21-7 at the half and behind enemy lines, it sucks (to lose). But you gotta take your hat off to them," said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs. "We didn't put them away."
Pittsburgh, which has won two of the last five Super Bowls, moved on to face the winner of Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets.
Ravens tackle Cory Redding scored on a 13-yard fumble recovery in the first quarter after the ball was jarred loose from Roethlisberger on a hit by Suggs, giving Baltimore a 14-7 lead.
The ball was on the ground for several moments before an alert Redding picked it up and walked untouched into the end zone, bringing a hush to the crowd and painting the Steelers' faces with disbelief.
The Ravens took a 21-7 lead in the second quarter, converting a Mendenhall fumble into Todd Heap's four-yard touchdown catch.
But the game turned in Pittsburgh's favor after three Baltimore giveaways in the third quarter.
Clark knocked the ball away from Ravens running back Ray Rice with his left hand, and Mendenhall's 14-yard run set up Roethlisberger's nine-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
Pittsburgh tied the game at 21-21 later in the quarter after Flacco, throwing wildly down the right sideline, was easily picked off by Clark. He returned it 17 yards to the Baltimore 25, leading to Roethlisberger's TD pass to Ward.
Flacco fumbled a snap on the ensuing series, giving Pittsburgh possession at the Baltimore 23 late in the third quarter. Roethlisberger surged through the line on 4th-and-1, getting a first down at the 12, but the Steelers settled for Shaun Suisham's 35-yard field goal for a 24-21 lead early in the fourth.
Shaking off the Pittsburgh rally, the Ravens tied the game on Billy Cundiff's 24-yard field goal with 3:54 remaining. But they could have had seven points -- Lardarius Webb spun and deked his way to a 55-yard punt return touchdown that was negated by a holding call, and Anquan Boldin dropped a pass in the end zone.
It was only the second time in the last eight meetings that a Steelers-Ravens game was decided by more than four points. The win was Pittsburgh's 32nd in the postseason, moving the team within one of the Cowboys' all-time record.
"It was a heck of a comeback," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh, "and they earned it."
Pass interference penalties on both teams led to a 7-7 score in the first quarter.
Pittsburgh took the lead on its first drive after a 37-yard penalty on Ravens cornerback Josh Wilson. Mendenhall rushed for one first down inside the 25 before scoring on a burst through the line.
Steelers defender Anthony Madison stumbled into Derrick Mason on the ensuing drive and was whistled for a 33-yard penalty. Rice scored on a 14-yard run two plays later to tie the game.
Redding's touchdown, challenged by Pittsburgh, stopped the game for several minutes for a review. Roethlisberger's arm was clearly going back when he was hit from behind by Suggs, however, and the touchdown stood.
Ravens players Ray Lewis and Haloti Ngata were among those standing near the ball as it lay on the 13-yard line, unaware that the play hadn't been whistled dead. Redding circled around Ngata to pick it up and was followed by two teammates into the end zone with 53 seconds left in the first quarter.
Baltimore scored its next touchdown off a turnover, as well, after Mendenhall fumbled in a pile of players when he rolled over teammate Chris Kemoeatu's elbow. Flacco hit Heap with a pass in the right side of the end zone.
Suisham missed a 43-yard field goal, wide left, at the end of the first half.
Pittsburgh has reached 15 AFC Championship Games since 1970, one more conference title game than Dallas...The Ravens opened the playoffs with a 30-7 victory in Kansas City last week...The Steelers are 3-0 against the Ravens in the playoffs.
01/15 21:28:25 ET
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