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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Pittsburgh, Atlanta advance to title games

Steelers kicker Jeff Reed (3) celebrates with holder Chris Gardocki after the game-winner.
 (Associated Press / The Spokesman-Review)
Alan Robinson Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers’ greatest season since the 1970s was all but lost, Ben Roethlisberger’s unbeaten rookie streak seemed to be over. Then Doug Brien missed the biggest kick he’ll likely ever try.


Jeff Reed did what Brien couldn’t do — make a game-winning field goal — and the Steelers somehow beat the New York Jets 20-17 Saturday in a remarkable overtime playoff game filled with wild swings in momentum and emotion.

Roethlisberger overcame two huge interceptions — one for a touchdown and another that appeared to doom the Steelers late in the fourth quarter — to lead a decisive drive that began at their own 13 and send Pittsburgh to next Sunday’s AFC championship game at home against New England or Indianapolis.

Reed’s 33-yarder with just more than 12 minutes gone in overtime won it and was his 19th successful conversion in a row, tying Gary Anderson’s team record.

The loss will go down as one of the most excruciating in the Jets’ star-crossed history. Brien’s twin misses were doubly stunning disappointments for a gutty team on the verge of its biggest upset since Broadway Joe’s guaranteed win over the Colts in the January 1969 Super Bowl.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Steelers linebacker Larry Foote said. “I’m not going to say it was a miracle, because that’s crippled people getting up and walking, the blind seeing. But that’s the closest thing to it I’ve ever seen.”

Steelers center Jeff Hartings felt much the same way, saying, “God gave us another chance.”

Brien’s 47-yarder with 1:58 remaining hit the goal post, but Roethlisberger gave the Jets the ball right back when his off-line throw was intercepted by David Barrett — just the kind of mistake rookie quarterbacks are supposed to make in the playoffs, but Big Ben had rarely made during his 13-0 rookie season. The Jets then drove cautiously from the Steelers 37 to the 25, giving Brien a 43-yarder to win it on the final play of regulation.

But the kick sailed far to the left, not even close, and the given-a-reprieve Steelers danced joyously on their sidelines — Roethlisberger right in the middle.

“I tried to hit it a little harder because I was real surprised I didn’t have the distance,” Brien said, referring to the 47-yarder.

Brien’s 28-yard kick in overtime beat San Diego last week, also 20-17.

“I had confidence in him, he made the one last week and I thought he could make it,” Jets coach Herman Edwards said. “We were kind of in a spot, there was nothing else we could really do, we had to kick the field goal. He’s been a good kicker for us. It was just a tough day.”

The Jets became the first NFL team to play three consecutive overtime games, including their regular-season ending loss in St. Louis. They dropped to 0-7 in Pittsburgh and 2-16 all-time against the Steelers.

The Steelers are 1-3 in AFC title games under coach Bill Cowher. All three losses were at home as big favorites, but linebacker Joey Porter senses this season will be different — and not just because they have won a team-record 15 in a row. They were only the fourth NFL team in 26 years to go 15-1 during the regular season.

The Steelers won four Super Bowls in six seasons from 1974-79, but they have returned only once since, losing to Dallas after the ‘95 season.

“After what we went through today, I think it’s our time,” Porter said. “The way these circumstances played out, it’s our time.”

The Jets will wonder for years why they’re not going to the AFC championship game.

“This is about as frustrated as I’ve ever been in my career,” said NFL rushing champion Curtis Martin, who was outrushed by Jerome Bettis 101-77 in a matchup of two of the NFL’s top five career rushers. “Right now I feel there is no end to my anger. … We left our hearts out there today.”