Steel­ers ad­vance to AFC ti­tle game

Men­den­hall scores win­ning TD mo­ments af­ter third-and-19 con­ver­sion

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY GENE WANG

Pitts­burgh wins, 31-24, on late touch­down; see wash­ing­ton­ for Green Bay-At­lanta re­sult.

pitts­burgh — When the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers had to sum­mon the im­prob­a­ble, who else to en­trust ex­cept Ben Roeth­lis­berger? Through­out his ca­reer, the dogged quar­ter­back has made con­se­quen­tial plays with reg­u­lar­ity, and he did so again in Satur­day’s AFC semi­fi­nal against the Bal­ti­more Ravens to lead a 31-24, come-from-be­hind vic­tory be­fore 64,879 at Heinz Field.

Fac­ing third and 19 from his team’s 38-yard line late in the fourth quar­ter, Roeth­lis­berger de­liv­ered an­other sig­na­ture play­off moment with a throw to wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown, who had beaten cor­ner­back Lar­dar­ius Webb, to the Bal­ti­more 4. Five plays later, run­ning back Rashard Men­den­hall scored from two yards out with 1 minute 33 sec­onds to play, and the Steel­ers could re­joice in their 15th ap­pear­ance in the AFC ti­tle game, fifth since 2001 and sec­ond in three years.

The vic­tory was par­tic­u­larly in­vig­o­rat­ing for the Steel­ers be­cause it came against their arch neme­sis. The Ravens had made it clear that noth­ing would pro­vide more fulfillment to them than oust­ing the six-time Su­per Bowl cham­pi­ons on their home field. Bal­ti­more also had the added in­cen­tive of hav­ing lost to Pitts­burgh two straight times in the post­sea­son en­ter­ing Satur­day’s game.

“ They al­ways pride them­selves on bul­ly­ing guys,” Steel­ers wide re­ceiver Hines Ward said of the Ravens. “ They al­ways do the trash talk­ing. They were trash talk­ing all week, talk­ing how they want to break Ben’s nose again and stuff like that, but some­times when you’re fight­ing a bully you’ve got to just hit them in the mouth and shut them up.”

Even when Roeth­lis­berger had his nose bent out of shape against Bal­ti­more on Dec. 5, he was able to re­group and shep­herd a 13-10 win. His poise and un­canny abil­ity to es­cape pres­sure were no dif­fer­ent on this night, when he com­pleted 19 of 32 throws for 226 yards and two touch­downs with­out an


Roeth­lis­berger com­pleted passes to nine play­ers, in­clud­ing five to tight end Heath Miller and four to wide re­ceiver Em­manuel San­ders. Men­den­hall added just 46 yards rush­ing on 20 at­tempts, but he scored two touch­downs, none more grat­i­fy­ing than the one that fol­lowed Roeth­lis­berger’s dra­matic throw.

“I guess guys sense the ur­gency,” said Roeth­lis­berger, whose play­off su­perla­tives also in­clude the win­ning touch­down to San­to­nio Holmes with 35 sec­onds left in Su­per Bowl XLIII to beat Ari­zona, 27-23. “We don’t like to put our­selves in those sit­u­a­tions. We like to just drive the ball down and what­ever, but it comes down to our last play, and ev­ery­one digs a lit­tle deeper.”

Pitts­burgh’s de­fense, mean­time, limited Bal­ti­more to 28 yards in the sec­ond half, in­clud­ing neg­a­tive-four in the third quar­ter, when the Ravens im­ploded with three turnovers in four pos­ses­sions. Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco had just 125 yards pass­ing with one touch­down and one in­ter­cep­tion for a rat­ing of 61.1.

Af­ter com­plet­ing a come­back from two touch­downs down late in the third quar­ter, the Steel­ers took the lead, 24-21, on place kicker Shaun Suisham’s 35-yard field goal with 12 min­utes 15 sec­onds to go in the game. Pitts­burgh was in po­si­tion for that kick off the foot of the for­mer Red­skin fol­low­ing a fum­ble on a muffed cen­ter-quar­ter­back ex­change. Pitts­burgh de­fen­sive end Brett Keisel landed on the ball at the Ravens 23.

The Ravens came back with a 27-yard field goal from Billy Cun­diff with 3:54 to play, made pos­si­ble af­ter Webb’s long punt re­turn gave Bal­ti­more the ball at the Pitts­burgh 29. But Webb soon would go from po­ten­tial savior to con­spic­u­ous cul­prit af­ter giv­ing up the play that set up the de­ci­sive score.

The Steel­ers didn’t waste much time carv­ing into a siz­able deficit early in the sec­ond half, get­ting a nine-yard touch­down pass from Roeth­lis­berger toMiller with 9:11 left in the third quar­ter to cap a 23-yard drive. Pitts­burgh’s short drive started af­ter safety Ryan Clark, also for­merly of the Red­skins, forced a fum­ble by tail­back Ray Rice

“It comes down to our last play, and ev­ery­one digs a lit­tle deeper.”

— Ben Roeth­lis­berger

that linebacker LaMarr Wood­ley re­cov­ered at the 23.

Clark gave the Steel­ers an­other short field min­utes later by in­ter­cept­ing Flacco’s over­thrown pass into dou­ble cov­er­age, re­turn­ing it 17 yards to the Ravens 25. Four plays later, Ward was on the re­ceiv­ing end of Roeth­lis­berger’s eight-yard touch­down pass, and the game was tied at 21.

It didn’t take long for the hos­til­i­ties be­tween the teams to ig­nite. On the Steel­ers’ ini­tial pos­ses­sion of the game, Ward shoved safety Ed Reed to the ground and pushed him while Reed was on his back. That drew a per­sonal foul on Ward, but Pitts­burgh shrugged that off when Roeth­lis­berger com­pleted a 20-yard fade toMikeWal­lace to the Steel­ers 38 on third and 12.

On the next play, Wal­lace drew a pass in­ter­fer­ence call against cor­ner­back Josh Wil­son that moved the ball 37 yards to the Ravens 25. Pitts­burgh ran seven con­sec­u­tive times from there, and Men­den­hall’s one-yard ef­fort on the last of those car­ries made it 7-0 with 6:18 to play in the open­ing quar­ter.

But the Ravens re­sponded with three con­sec­u­tive touch­downs. The first was Rice’s 14yard touch­down, and 27 sec­onds later in a bizarre play, de­fen­sive end Cory Red­ding scooped up a Roeth­lis­berger fum­ble for a 13yard touch­down.

Linebacker Ter­rell Suggs had smacked Roeth­lis­berger’s arm mo­ments ear­lier, and the ball came loose, but play­ers from both teams sim­ply stood around for a short time be­fore Red­ding picked it up. Bal­ti­more’s next touch­down came on a four-yard pass from Flacco to tight end Todd Heap, and it ap­peared the Ravens were on their way to the next round.

“We just weren’t great enough to­day to win that foot­ball game,” Ravens Coach John Har­baugh said. “ That’s cer­tainly dis­ap­point­ing, but that doesn’t dis­cour­age us, doesn’t frus­trate us. We’ll be back.”


The deck is stacked against Ravens run­ning back Wil­lisMcGa­hee on this play, as he is stopped by a group of Steel­ers de­fend­ers dur­ing third-quar­ter ac­tion.


Ben Roeth­lis­berger se­cures the ball fol­low­ing a fourth-quar­ter sack by the Ravens. Roeth­lis­berger passed for 226 yards and two touch­downs.

Wide re­ceiver T.J. Housh­mandzadeh sits de­jected af­ter drop­ping a fourth-down pass late in the game.

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