Big Ben chimes in with timely toss

Roeth­lis­berger hits Brown with late TD strike to clinch divi­sion ti­tle for Steel­ers

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - SPORTS - By ASSOCIATED PRESS in Pitts­burgh

With time run­ning out and a sea­son filled with prom­ise evap­o­rat­ing on Christ­mas Day, Pitts­burgh Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger took the snap, turned to his left and put the AFC North ti­tle in the hands of wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown.

Brown caught the ball at the Baltimore 4-yard line and waited for the hit he knew was com­ing.

When it ar­rived from Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle and line­backer C.J. Mosley, Brown ducked his head and stretched the ball across the goal line for a play­off-clinch­ing touch­down that sym­bol­ized his team’s re­silience.

Af­ter reel­ing through much of the fourth quar­ter at home against an archri­val that’s more than had their num­ber in re­cent years, the Steel­ers are head­ing to the play­offs.

Brown’s lung­ing score with nine sec­onds left sealed a 31-27 vic­tory and a sec­ond divi­sion ti­tle in three years, de­liv­er­ing just what run­ning back Le’ Veon Bell pre­dicted.

“Over there by the heaters be­fore the fi­nal drive, Le’ Veon said ‘AB, you got to go down there and get the game win­ner,” Brown said.

It was a play Brown’s team­mates have seen many times — just never with so much on the line.

“That’s AB,” wide re­ceiver Da­mar­cus Ay­ers said. “He does it so much in prac­tice, it doesn’t wow you in a game. In this par­tic­u­lar mo­ment it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s done it again.’ ”

Baltimore (8-7) was elim­i­nated from the play­off pic­ture.

Brown fin­ished with 10 re­cep­tions for 96 yards to join Hall of Famer Marvin Har­ri­son as the only play­ers with four straight 100-catch sea­sons.

Roeth­lis­berger shook off a pair of third-quar­ter in­ter­cep­tions to fin­ish with 279 yards pass­ing and three touch­downs. Bell ran for 122 yards and a score and hauled in another on an ad-libbed play by Roeth­lis­berger as Pitts­burgh ral­lied from a 10-point deficit to win its sixth straight.

The Steel­ers (10-5) host dur­ing wild-card week­end on ei­ther Jan 7 or 8, heady ter­ri­tory con­sid­er­ing they were 4-5 af­ter fall­ing to Dal­las on Nov 13. As New Year’s nears, they haven’t lost again.

“I think to­day showed some re­solve,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “I think we showed some fight.”

The Ravens grabbed the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the mid­dle with 1:18 re­main­ing, but Roeth­lis­berger calmly led the Steel­ers 75 yards in 10 plays — the last four yards on a play that could live on in team his­tory.

Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards, in­clud­ing a pretty 18-yard dart to Steve Smith that put Baltimore up 14-10 early in the third quar­ter. Smith ended up with seven re­cep­tions for 79 yards, but the Ravens crum­bled late.

Their de­fense put up lit­tle re­sis­tance as Roeth­lis­berger got his team in po­si­tion to get back to the play­offs.

“We didn’t want (Roeth­lis­berger) to have a good game,” Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs said.

“We didn’t want (Brown) and (Bell) to kind of put their im­print on the game, but they did that. They’re a good team. They’re well de­serv­ing. They won the divi­sion, we’ ll ap­plaud them, but we’ ll be back.”

It’s a des­ti­na­tion that seemed to be dis­ap­pear­ing right in front of Pitts­burgh’s eyes in the third quar­ter.

Roeth­lis­berger threw a pair of picks deep in Pitts­burgh ter­ri­tory — both poorly thrown balls to heav­ily cov­ered tar­gets — that helped the Ravens take con­trol.

“It’s pretty spe­cial the way we won it,” Roeth­lis­berger said. “Es­pe­cially af­ter feel­ing the way I felt at a cer­tain point and feel­ing like I let guys down and I blew it.”

In­stead it’s the Ravens who will spend a long off­sea­son won­der­ing how their mas­tery over the Steel­ers — and a po­ten­tial post­sea­son berth — dis­solved in the fi­nal 12 min­utes.

Baltimore will miss the play­offs for the third time in four sea­sons.

“With ev­ery­thing you work for and you don’t reach your goal, so it’s just somber,” Wed­dle said.

“It’s down. Give them credit. Ben got them rolling.”

Big role for Ay­ers

Ob­scure rookie wide re­ceiver Demar­cus Ay­ers drew a pass in­ter­fer­ence play that set up Bell’s score af­ter fi­nally mak­ing the ac­tive ros­ter. Ay­ers also caught a 9-yard pass on Pitts­burgh’s win­ning drive.

“Ben told me last night he was go­ing to come to me at some point,” Ay­ers said.

“I couldn’t sleep. I just tried to stay ready.”

Baltimore’s typ­i­cally re­li­able spe­cial teams let the Ravens down in the sec­ond quar­ter.

A high snap on a field-goal at­tempt by Pro Bowler Justin Tucker ended with­out Tucker even get­ting the 45-yard kick air­borne.

“There were a cou­ple of plays left out there,” Flacco said. “Prob­a­bly five or 10 points left out there.”

FRED VUICH / AP

Baltimore Ravens full­back Kyle Juszczyk dives into the end zone for a touch­down dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL game against the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers in Pitts­burgh, on Sun­day. The Steel­ers won 31-27 and clinched the AFC North ti­tle.

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