Super Steelers

Troy Polamalu's interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter seals the Steelers' victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship.

There would be no letdown at Heinz Field this time.

The Steelers defense wouldn't allow it.

After failing twice before this decade – in 2001 and 2004 – to secure a berth in the Super Bowl at Heinz Field, the Steelers found the third time to be a charm, forcing four Baltimore turnovers in a 23-14 victory over the Ravens.

The Steelers will play the surprising Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII Feb. 1. The Cardinals defeated Philadelphia earlier in the day, 31-25, to win their first NFC Championship.

If that game will be all about Arizona's high-powered offense against the Steelers' top-rated defense, Sunday's game at Heinz Field was all about the defenses.

Pittsburgh's defense proved to be too difficult for Baltimore rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to solve, as the Steelers picked off three passes, including one for a touchdown by Troy Polamalu late in the fourth quarter that provided the winning edge. Baltimore managed just 197 total yards.

After the Steelers got a 46-yard field goal from Jeff Reed to go ahead 16-7, the appeared to be in cruise control. But Baltimore took advantage of a shanked punt by Pittsburgh's Mitch Berger, which traveled just 21 yards to give the ball to the Ravens at their own 42.

A 20-yard pass interference penalty on Ike Taylor for put the ball at the Pittsburgh 1 and Willis McGahee scored from there to trim Pittsburgh's lead to 16-14 with 9:29 remaining. But Troy Polamalu picked off a Flacco pass intended for Derrick Mason and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown, sending the Heinz Field-record crowd of 65,350 into a frenzy.

The play was classic Polamalu, as he scampered about 100 yards with the ball across the field, juking would-be tacklers before darting into the end zone.

Ryan Clark then finished off the Ravens, belting McGahee on a short pass over the middle, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Lawrence Timmons with 3:29 remaining in the game.

Both Clark and McGahee were shaken up on the play, Clark leaving under his own power with help. McGahee, however, was taken off on a stretcher.

The Steelers jumped out to a 3-0 lead on their first possession, with Ben Roethlisberger, who completed 16 of 33 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown, connecting with Hines Ward on a 45-yard catch-and-run to set up a 34-yard Reed field goal. Ward would later leave the game with a knee injury.

The two teams traded punts and after Baltimore got the ball back, Flacco was intercepted on third down by Deshea Townsend, giving Pittsburgh the ball back at the Ravens' 35.

Roethlisberger threw a beautiful pass to Santonio Holmes down the seam that was marked down at the Baltimore 1, but the Ravens challenged the completion and referee Bill Carollo ruled the pass was incomplete. Reed kicked another field goal, this one from 42 yards, to put the Steelers ahead 6-0.

Baltimore appeared to catch the break it needed on the Steelers' next series, as Ray Lewis forced a fumble by Willie Parker and safety Jim Leonhard recovered at the Pittsburgh 43. But the Steelers stopped McGahee on a third-and-one run and then Flacco on a quarterback sneak, as Casey Hampton and Polamalu stood him up at the line of scrimmage to turn the ball over on downs.

Three plays later, Roethlisberger took the snap on third-and-nine, stepped up into the pocket to avoid the oncoming pass rush and then back toward the middle of the field, lofting the ball high downfield to Santonio Holmes, who was working one-on-one against Fabian Washington.

Washington jumped to attempt to get a hand on the ball and fell down, leaving Holmes by himself to make the catch. Holmes ran back across the field, making a couple of defenders miss and scooted down the sideline, diving into the end zone just inside the pylon past Baltimore's Ed Reed to give the Steelers a 13-0 lead with 13:58 to go in the first half.

Baltimore finally got on the scoreboard with the help of their special teams, as Leonhard returned a punt 45 yards to the Pittsburgh 17 with 3:37 left in the first half.

A pass interference penalty on Bryant McFadden placed the ball at the Pittsburgh 3 and McGahee took it into the end zone from there to trim the Pittsburgh lead to 13-7 with 2:40 remaining in the second quarter.

Holmes returned a punt 25 yards to the 50 with one minute remaining and Roethlisberger went deep to rookie Limas Sweed on the first play, but a wide open-Sweed dropped the ball at the Baltimore 5 and the Steelers were forced to punt. But Baltimore's Edgar Jones was penalized for a questionable roughing the punter penalty for running into Mitch Berger, giving Pittsburgh a first down.

The Steelers were unable to put any points on the board, however, as Roethlisberger was unable to spike the ball in time after throwing a nine-yard completion to Mewelde Moore that put the ball at the Baltimore 21.


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