Steelers use defense to top Ravens
PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers outhit the Baltimore Ravens and outplayed them behind a steady-as-he-goes Ben Roethlisberger, marching into the Super Bowl behind a defense that brought back memories of the storied Steel Curtain.
The Steelers ended their home-field jinx in the AFC title game by beating Baltimore 23-14 on Sunday and Troy Polamalu ended any chance the Ravens had for a comeback with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
The Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Tampa.
The matchup is intriguing — Mike Tomlin vs. the Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt, the offensive coordinator when the Steelers won the Super Bowl three seasons ago who went to Arizona after being passed over for Pittsburgh's job.
Whisenhunt and his top assistant, Russ Grimm, left after the Steelers unexpectedly hired Tomlin, who has done something even Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher couldn't do by taking Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl in his second season.
The Steelers harassed rookie Joe Flacco all game long. Normally unflappable, he looked lost at times and finished 13-for-30 for 141 yards and three costly interceptions.
Roethlisberger, picked off four times by New England in his rookie-year AFC title game, was a steady 16-of-33 for 255 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions. If nothing else, it showed how much experience mattered in a game so important.
After Polamalu's twisting, turning run sealed it with 4:39 to play, the game was held up when Willis McGahee, who scored both Baltimore touchdowns, was carted off the field following a frightening hit to the helmet by Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark.
The Ravens said he had "significant neck pain," but movement in his arms and legs.
Pittsburgh is heading to its seventh Super Bowl. Only the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys have won five, and Pittsburgh can be the first to win six. If the Steelers beat Arizona, the 36-year-old Tomlin would be the youngest coach to win an NFL championship.
"They did it tonight the way we've done it all year," Tomlin said. "We've got a very humble group, a very selfless group."
The Steelers proved it is possible to beat a good team three times in a season, and will now face a team they share a history with. They were merged as Card-Pitt during World War II in 1944 when the Cardinals were in Chicago and went 0-10, the only winless team in Steelers history.
Steelers owner Dan Rooney recalls them being nicknamed the Car-Pitts "because everybody walked all over us."
Earlier in the day, before Whisenhunt knew the outcome of the Steelers-Ravens game, he said he wanted to match up against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl.
"I mean, I'm glad we're playing in it, but the reason I'm here is because of my time with Pittsburgh," Whisenhunt said, "and I am very grateful for that."