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Steelers will play for sixth title

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu crosses the goal line on a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown that essentially sealed Pittsburgh’s win over Baltimore. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu crosses the goal line on a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown that essentially sealed Pittsburgh’s win over Baltimore. (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)

PITTSBURGH – Tough and mean, like the original Steel Curtain.

These Pittsburgh Steelers delivered too many hard hits and their quarterback was steady enough to outplay the kid and the rest of the Baltimore Ravens.

With Troy Polamalu ending any chance Baltimore had for a comeback with a 40-yard interception return, the Steelers bullied their rivals 23-14 on Sunday to reach their seventh Super Bowl.

“It was a typical, hard-hitting, physical game. It’s the way every Baltimore-Pittsburgh game is,” said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who missed most of the game with a knee injury. “Sometimes guys get hit so hard, you don’t know if they’re going to get up. They say defense wins championships, well, we have the No. 1 defense. And they’re the reason why we’re really going to the Super Bowl.”

Next, Pittsburgh will play the Arizona Cardinals in two weeks in Tampa, Fla.

After beating Baltimore for the third time, the Steelers set up an intriguing matchup – Mike Tomlin versus 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 Joe Flacco all game long as he tried to become the first rookie quarterback to take a team to the Super Bowl. Normally unflappable, he looked lost at times and finished 13-for-30 for 141 yards and three costly interceptions.

“It’s always that way,” said Ben Roethlisberger, who took a vicious shot to his shoulder in the first half. “This is always a 12-round slugfest. … I was ready when I took a knee at the end, you never know when somebody is going to fire off the ball.”

Roethlisberger, picked off four times by New England in his rookie-year AFC title game, was 16 of 33 for 255 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions. If nothing else, it showed experience mattered.

“Here’s my advice to the Arizona Cardinals: Don’t rush Ben Roethlisberger,” the Ravens’ Trevor Pryce said. “After that, he’s a playground football player. That’s what he is, and he’s a damn good one.”

Roethlisberger would laugh at that analogy – he said the Steelers’ big play of the game, a 65-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that made it 13-0, was an improvised play “just like on the playground.”

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 Ryan Clark.

The Ravens said he had “significant neck pain,” but movement in his arms and legs.

Only the Steelers, 49ers and Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, and Pittsburgh can be the first to win six. If the Steelers beat Arizona, Tomlin, 36, 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 spent the game pressuring Flacco, who was outplayed as badly as Roethlisberger was by the Patriots’ Tom Brady in his first AFC title game four years ago, and the mismatch at QB may have made the difference.

Down 16-14, Flacco tried to rally the Ravens in the closing minutes. That’s when Polamalu stepped in.

“I think Troy was probably just able to read my eyes,” Flacco said. “I think he was just able to jump over there, read a little bit and he made a nice play.”

Steelers 23, Ravens 14

Baltimore 0 7 0 7 14
Pittsburgh 6 7 3 7 23

 Pit—FG J.Reed 34

Pit—FG J.Reed 42

Pit—Holmes 65 pass from Roethlisberger (J.Reed kick)

Bal—McGahee 3 run (Stover kick)

Pit—FG J.Reed 46

Bal—McGahee 1 run (Stover kick)

Pit—Polamalu 40 interception return (J.Reed kick)

A—65,350.

Bal Pit
First downs 13 11
Total Net Yards 198 275
Rushes-yards 25-73 28-52
Passing 125 223
Punt Returns 6-65 5-26
Kickoff Returns 6-86 3-64
Interceptions Ret. 0-0 3-47
Comp-Att-Int 13-30-3 16-33-0
Sacked-Yards Lost 3-16 4-32
Punts 7-40.9 7-37.7
Fumbles-Lost 3-1 2-1
Penalties-Yards 6-53 6-67
Time of Possession 26:51 33:09

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING—Baltimore, McGahee 20-60, Clayton 1-16, L.McClain 1-3, Rice 1-2, Flacco 2-(minus 8). Pittsburgh, Parker 24-47, Moore 1-6, N.Washington 1-1, Roethlisberger 2-(minus 2).

PASSING—Baltimore, Flacco 13-30-3-141. Pittsburgh, Roethlisberger 16-33-0-255.

RECEIVING—Baltimore, Rice 3-43, Mason 3-41, Heap 3-26, Clayton 2-18, McGahee 2-13. Pittsburgh, Miller 3-62, Ward 3-55, N.Washington 3-21, Holmes 2-70, Sweed 2-20, C.Davis 1-20, Moore 1-9, Parker 1-(minus 2).

MISSED FIELD GOALS—None.


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