| Houston Chronicle Jan. 24--5/8 -- Pack slight Super Bowl favorite
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PITTSBURGH -- After the New York Jets outscored them by 19 points to pull within five with 3:06 remaining in the AFC Championship Game, the Pittsburgh Steelers relied on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to save them from a monumental collapse.
Roethlisberger didn't throw a touchdown pass Sunday at frigid Heinz Field, but he completed two clutch throws for first downs on the Steelers' last drive, securing a 24-19 victory that ruined the Jets' comeback and earned Pittsburgh a place in Super Bowl XLV opposite the Green Bay Packers.
After quarterback Mark Sanchez threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery to pull the Jets within five points, coach Rex Ryan decided against an onside kick. Nick Folk's kickoff was returned 27 yards by receiver Antonio Brown for a first down at the Pittsburgh 41.
The Jets had three timeouts and the two-minute warning with which to work, but the Steelers made Ryan's strategy backfire when Roethlisberger completed 14-yard passes to tight end Heath Miller and Brown, a rookie from Central Michigan. After Brown's catch, Roethlisberger took a knee.
Now the Steelers are going to their eighth Super Bowl, tying Dallas' record, and will try for a seventh ring.
"We don't play not to lose", Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's why we threw the ball to Heath Miller on a bootleg on second down. Ultimately, we threw third-and-6 to Antonio Brown."
Ryan was stunned when Roethlisberger threw the passes to Miller and Brown.
"Without question, it was a gutsy play", Ryan said about the pass to Miller. "It was a great throw. We went for the swipe instead of putting the glove in.
"I was actually shocked they didn't run the football (on Brown's reception). They spread us out and went five-wide. I expected them to run the quarterback draw."
The Steelers turned to their old-fashioned style, running 43 times for 166 yards, 121 by Rashard Mendenhall. Roethlisberger was 10-of-19 passing for 133 yards.
In the first half, the Steelers looked as if they would beat the Jets easily and advance to their third Super Bowl in six years.
They led 24-0 before the Jets kicked a field goal at the end of the first half.
"The first 30 minutes were conference-championship worthy", Tomlin said, "but we kind of limped home. We're not going to complain about style points."
The second half was a different story for the Steelers. The Jets scored 16 unanswered points on two touchdowns and a safety.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to the Jets and Rex Ryan", Roethlisberger said. "He's a mastermind, and they threw things at us we hadn't seen, and they put a damper on what we wanted to do in the second half.
"It's like chess to him. He finds ways to challenge you and make it difficult for you. That's what happened in the second half."
Sanchez threw two touchdown passes and finished 20-of-33 for 233 yards.
The comeback began with the second-half kickoff when the Jets went 90 yards to make it 24-10 on Sanchez's 45-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.
In the fourth quarter, the Jets had first-and-goal at the Pittsburgh 2. In what had to be one of the greatest goal-line stands in playoff history, the Steelers kept the Jets out of the end zone.
After Shonn Greene ran for 1 yard, some suspect play-calling by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer left Sanchez with two incomplete passes. On fourth down, LaDainian Tomlinson was stuffed for no gain by nose tackle Casey Hampton.
When Roethlisberger fumbled the snap from backup center Doug Legursky, who played after starter Maurkice Pouncey left with an ankle injury in the first quarter, he was tackled in the end zone for a safety that made it 24-12.
The Jets got the ball at their 42 and, using a no-huddle offense, went 58 yards in 10 plays. Cotchery's TD pulled them within five, but
The Jets never got the ball back.
"The toughest loss I've ever been part of", Jets outside linebacker Jason Taylor said. "So close you could see it, smell it, feel it."
It was the Jets' second consecutive loss in the AFC Championship Game.
"Obviously, there's a huge amount of disappointment for us", Ryan said. "We almost pulled out another one. We're going to chase the Super Bowl again next year."
"Who are we kidding? There are 32 teams that start this journey. There are two left, and we're fortunate to be one of them."
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