STEELERS 24, JETS 19
Steelers' record: 14-4
Series record (including playoffs): Steelers lead, 17-4
Steelers' record in AFC Championship Games: 8-7
As late as the start of these playoffs, there weren't too many who believed it would be the Jets and the Steelers playing for the AFC's spot in Super Bowl XLV. But here they both are, with the Jets having earned their spot with back-to-back wins over Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, and the Steelers because they won World War III against the Ravens. These teams played on Dec. 19, with the Jets having won at Heinz Field, but that really doesn't constitute the kind of history that existed between the Jets and both the Colts and Patriots, and so instead of vitriol the run-up to the game was a lovefest.
A 17-0 lead in a game like this is huge, but a 24-0 lead can be considered insurmountable, and that's what Ike Taylor and William Gay combined to provide the Steelers before the end of the first half. On a third-and-17, Taylor and Gay blitzed, while James Harrison dropped into coverage, which is another example of Dick LeBeau utilizing his personnel in ways designed to confuse the opposing quarterback. Taylor came in clean and got the sack/strip, and Gay scooped up the loose ball and ran 19 yards for the touchdown that gave the Steelers a 24-0 lead with just over a minute left in the first half.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
Ben Roethlisberger now has a 10-2 record as a starting quarterback in the playoffs.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
* The idea always is to get off to a quick start, and the Steelers did that by taking the opening kickoff and driving 66 yards in 15 plays for a touchdown on a 1-yard extra-effort run by Rashard Mendenhall. The bad news was an ankle injury sustained by Maurkice Pouncey, and he was taken off the field on a cart.
- In the regular season version of this game, Mendenhall finished with 99 yards rushing, and the Steelers came into this one believing they could run the ball effectively. At the end of the third quarter, the Steelers had 166 yards rushing, with Mendenhall accounting for 116 of those on 24 carries.
- LaMarr Woodley set an NFL record by accumulating 10 career playoff sacks in only six games. Woodley has recorded at least one sack in every playoff game in which he has participated.
- In the first meeting between these teams, Ben Roethlisberger's running was a valuable component to the offense, and so it was again in this AFC Championship Game. Roethlisberger officially finished with 21 yards on 11 carries, but he lost 7 yards on four kneel-downs, so he actually rushed seven times for 28 yards. None were as important as his 2-yard touchdown run in the first half when he read the Jets defense down at the goal line and took the opening that was presented to him.
- The Steelers were nursing a 24-19 lead when they got the ball with 3:06 left in the fourth quarter. After a 1-yard run by Mendenhall on first down, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians got the go-ahead from Coach Mike Tomlin to be aggressive. Roethlisberger then hit Heath Miller with a 14-yard pass for a first down, and then after a couple of more runs by Mendenhall forced the Jets to use their final two timeouts, Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown for a 14-yard gain for a first down on the play after the two-minute warning that allowed the Steelers to kneel three times to clinch the game.
WHAT WENT WRONG
* On a first-and-10 at the Jets 23-yard line during the Steelers' opening possession, Ben Roethlisberger executed a pretty play-action fake and had Heath Miller wide open down the left sideline for an apparent touchdown. But Roethlisberger overthrew the ball slightly and Miller had to dive to make the catch at the 2-yard line. Originally called a reception on the field, referee Ed Hochuli overturned the play after a challenge by Rex Ryan.
- On fourth-and-1 at the Jets 32-yard line, Roethlisberger attempted a short dump-off pass to Rashard Mendenhall, who seemed to lose his footing as he came through the line of scrimmage. Mendenhall got a hand on the ball, which caused a carom that Bryan Thomas intercepted to give the ball to the Jets at their 35-yard line. 12:32 left in the first half.
- The Jets ended the first half with 50 net yards of offense, but they took the second half kickoff and drove 90 yards in five plays for the touchdown that made it 24-10. The score came on a 45-yard pass to Santonio Holmes, who ran past Ike Taylor and then was behind safety Ryan Clark when the ball arrived.
- After he escaped early pressure, Ben Roethlisberger had Emmanuel Sanders open deep, but the throw went to the receiver's inside and was intercepted by safety Brodney Pool at the Jets 5-yard line. Coming into this game, Roethlisberger hadn't thrown an interception since Dec. 5 in Baltimore, but he had thrown two in his first 17 attempts vs. the Jets.
- A first-and-10 at the Jets 42-yard line became a fourth-and-25 at the Steelers 43-yard line after a disastrous series in which Roethlisberger was sacked on first and third downs, and Mewelde Moore was dumped for a loss on a second-down run.
- Following a goal-line stand by the Steelers defense that preserved a 24-10 lead, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled the snap from center Doug Legursky and then had to fall on the ball for a safety. It was the second safety recorded by the Jets in the two games against the Steelers this season.
The unthinkable happened, but the Steelers found a way to overcome that, too.
Maurkice Pouncey sustained a high ankle sprain in the first half of the game against the Jets. He was helped off the field, and then taken from the sideline into the locker room on a cart. Doug Legursky replaced Pouncey.
"He's got an ankle sprain," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "I think to say anything more than that at this point would be premature. But of course it was such that he couldn't go back in the game today. I am sure we will have more information that will be debated here in the next couple of weeks. But it's a great debate to have, isn't it? We move on."
The only players to miss the game for the Steelers with injuries were Will Allen (knee) and Aaron Smith (triceps).
CB Bryant McFadden (abdominal strain) did not start the game, but he did play in sub-package football in passing situations. William Gay started in place of McFadden, and then he moved into the slot when the Jets went to multiple wide receivers.