Here they go again: Steelers beat Jets, 24-19, to reach Super Bowl XLV
They are three words that mean everything to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those words form a simple mantra — a heartbeat — that carried the team and its fans through the turbulent times and all the way back to another Super Bowl:
Here we go!
And away the Steelers went Sunday, building a commanding lead, then hanging on for a 24-19 victory over the upstart New York Jets before a sea of swirling yellow towels on a bitter-cold night.
“The first 30 minutes was conference-champion worthy,” said Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin, whose team built a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, yet was outscored 19-0 in the final 31 minutes. “We kind of limped home, but we aren’t going to complain about style points.”
As style points go, the Super Bowl XLV matchup is off the charts. The Steelers will play the Green Bay Packers — two of the NFL’s most-storied franchises — on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Steelers have won a record six Super Bowls, whereas the Packers are going for their fourth Super Bowl ring, the last coming 14 years ago. The devoted following of the two franchises stretches coast to coast and beyond, meaning this could be the hottest Super Bowl ticket ever.
“It’s the tradition, Green Bay’s and ours,” Steelers receiver Hines Ward said. “You’re probably going to see half-and-half. … I know our fans are going to turn out. Whatever a ticket costs, they’re going to get their hands on them.”
The brash Jets nearly crashed the party, clawing their way back into the game with a field goal, a safety and two touchdowns. Second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez outplayed Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger for much of the game, but it was Roethlisberger who came up with the signature play.
With two minutes remaining and the Steelers protecting a five-point lead, Roethlisberger faced third and six at the Jets’ 40-yard line. New York was out of timeouts, and the Steelers could have played it safe, run the ball and punted. Instead, Roethlisberger rolled right and rocketed a pass to rookie Antonio Brown for a 14-yard gain.
That completion was the death blow, and it triggered a wild eruption at Heinz Field, including some Steelers running onto the playing surface with arms outstretched like planes, mocking the Jets’ favorite celebration. Three kneels later and the game was over.
“It’s just a situation if you want to play holding your butt, run the ball and punt, or do you want to try to win the game?” said Bruce Arians, the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, of the gutsy call. “Coach said, ‘Win it.’ We had a play set, set that Thursday night, and Ben made an unbelievable throw and Antonio got open.
“You can always play safe … but it’s not as nice as kneeling down.”
Roethlisberger’s numbers were forgettable – 10 for 19 for 133 yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions — but the game will go down as another great one in the rich history of a proud franchise.
A big reason for that was the running of Rashard Mendenhall, who gained 121 yards in 27 carries, including the game’s first touchdown. That power running enabled Pittsburgh to control the ball more than nine minutes longer than the Jets.
Standing outside the Steelers’ locker room after the game was Hall of Fame running back Franco Harris, who doesn’t know Mendenhall well but was very impressed by his effort. It was, Harris said, a kind befitting the Steel City.
“Defense and running the ball, that’s what defines the Pittsburgh Steelers,” Harris said. “What I always tell people is the best defense is an offense that can eat up the clock. That makes a big difference.”
Making Mendenhall’s performance even more impressive is that some of it came without rookie center Maurkice Pouncey in the game. Already the Steelers’ best offensive lineman, Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening drive and did not return.
Later, the Jets lost Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold, so they too were operating at a disadvantage.
Pouncey is optimistic he can recover in time to play in the Super Bowl.
“I had the same injury before on my other ankle, and I know how to attack it,” he said. “I know how to approach things. I’m ready. I know in my heart that I’m playing in that game.”
Pittsburgh defensive end Aaron Smith, whom teammates say is the best 3-4 defensive end in the league, hasn’t played since suffering a torn triceps Oct. 24. He too says he’ll do anything within his means to play against the Packers.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “So we’ll see what happens.”
Actually, for the Steelers, these opportunities have come along far more frequently than that. As for the Jets, they haven’t gotten to the Super Bowl since winning it with Joe Namath in the 1968 season. None of their current players were alive then.
“Obviously, there’s a huge amount of disappointment for us,” Jets Coach Rex Ryan said. “But I’m proud of our team. … We almost pulled out another one.”
The Jets overcame two daunting challenges to get this far, posting road victories over Peyton Manning’s Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady’s New England Patriots. Ryan had called the Pittsburgh game “Mission: Impossible III.”
But the Steelers endured more than their share of adversity too, including being down to their fourth-string quarterback by Week 3 (while Roethlisberger served his suspension), losing both starting offensive tackles, losing their punter and dumping their longtime kicker.
“All of these journeys are like that,” Tomlin said. “They are adversity-filled, collective and personal. We’ve got a close-knit group there [in the locker room]. We have great leadership in there. We have a lot of components in there that make navigating the waters possible.”
And all the while, their here-we-go heartbeat powers them along.
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