NFL Playoffs: Steelers 31, Ravens 24
PITTSBURGH ó A most fitting comeback for Ben Roethlisberger.
With the kind of playmaking that put two Super Bowl rings on his fingers, the Steelers quarterback connected on a 58-yard pass to rookie Antonio Brown with less than two minutes to go. The go-for-broke toss set up the winning touchdown in a rough-and-tumble 31-24 victory Saturday over the archrival Baltimore Ravens.
“Let’s just chuck it deep,” Roethlisberger told offensive coordinator Bruce Arians just before he threw his biggest pass of the season. “If they pick it, it will be a pick way down there, just as good as a punt. … I just throw it as far as I can.’ ”
“It was kind of amazing,” Brown said. “It kind of stuck to my shoulder.”
As a result, the Steelers (13-4) are a win away from their third Super Bowl in six seasons. The Steelers will play the winner of Sunday’s game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
Rashard Mendenhall scored the winning TD from 2 yards with 1:33 left. That ended any ideas the Ravens had of finally winning a playoff game against their division rivals.
Roethlisberger took his shots early from the Ravens’ defense, but threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns before his big pass on third-and-19.
“He may not be (Tom) Brady or all those other guys, but when I see him in the huddle I know we’ve got a chance to win,” said Hines Ward, who caught a TD pass. “He’s a proven winner. And history shows he’s a proven winner against Baltimore.”
The third meeting this season between these AFC North rivals had the usual skirmishes, but also was filled with penalties and turnovers.
It’s been a rugged season for the Steelers’ quarterback. His life and reputation were in tatters 10 months ago following sexual assault allegations that weren’t prosecuted. He was suspended for the first four games of the season, and helped his team finish with 12 victories and a first-round bye.
“It’s Ben. You give this guy an opportunity to snap it; he’s capable of producing plays,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “It’s not always how you draw it up, but he has a no-blink mentality. He is a competitor and a winner. And those guys follow him.”
While the Steelers trailed by two TDs at the half, it was the Ravens who fell apart in the in the second half as the team they love to beat most came back to knock them out of the postseason. The Steelers are 9-0 against division teams in the postseason.
The Steelers were trailing 21-7 after turnovers created two Ravens touchdowns. But they came back with the help of three Baltimore turnovers in the third quarter. It was so bad, the Ravens’ minus-4 yards in offense wasn’t the worst of it; they ended with 28 yards in the second half.
“We knew we had to play great. We knew if we didn’t play great we were going to lose this game,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Baltimore was outgained 263-126 and Joe Flacco was 16 of 30 for 125 yards.
The Ravens’ last chance to beat the Steelers ó they haven’t in three postseason tries ó ended when T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped Flacco’s fourth-down pass at the Steelers’ 38 with 1:03 remaining.
“We knew it would be a close game,” Houshmandzadeh said. “I didn’t think it needed to be, but it was.”
Failing to protect the ball cost the Ravens ó even after they scored two touchdowns in less than 30 seconds in the first half. Defensive end Cory Redding returned a Roethlisberger fumble for a touchdown that both teams thought was an incompletion, but that wasn’t nearly enough on a day when the Ravens’ offense did so little.
“What better way to put the Ravens out of the tournament,” Ward said. “They keep asking for us and we keep putting them out of the tournament. They’re going to be ticked about this for a long time.”
With Baltimore up 21-7, Ryan Clark forced a rare fumble by Ray Rice on a screen pass, and LaMarr Woodley recovered at the 23. The play re-energized the crowd of 64,879 that had grown silent as Baltimore opened its two-TD lead.