Ben Roethlisberger passed for 255 yards and a touchdown, but, more important, converted nine big third-down throws and was not intercepted. He was 11 of 24 for 188 yards in the first half but was victimized by three drops, two of which cost the Steelers 11 points. He escaped pressure several times to make those third downs, none bigger than Santonio Holmes' 65-yard catch-and-run TD.
Willie Parker continued to struggle against the Ravens, gaining just 47 yards on 24 carries. Worse, he had just 22 yards on 12 carries in the first half and lost a fumble. But, to the running backs' credit, they kept trying to gain yards in the second half, even though they came grudgingly. Carey Davis converted a big third down with a 20-yard catch-and-run that set up a field goal for a 16-7 lead.
Santonio Holmes made a big play for the second game in a row, turning a short third-down catch into a 65-yard TD, but three big drops cost the team a bigger lead. Limas Sweed dropped what would have been a certain 50-yard TD -- even his crushing block on CB Corey Ivy couldn't atone for that. What's more, his injury timeout on the drop cost the Steelers a chance to kick a field goal at the end of the half.
No push in the run game, four sacks on Roethlisberger, a few false-start penalties and a costly unsportsmanlike conduct penalty were enough to highlight an ineffective performance. The Steelers rushed for 52 yards on 28 attempts. And guard Chris Kemoeatu's unsportsmanlike conduct penalty put the team in a big hole, leading to a 46-yard punt return that set up the Ravens' first TD.
With Le'Ron McClain ailing, the Ravens relied mostly on Willis McGahee, who finished with 60 yards. DE Aaron Smith had the first sack on Joe Flacco in the postseason and NT Casey Hampton helped stuff the Ravens on fourth down, which led to a touchdown. The Ravens finished with 73 yards on 25 carries but did not do enough damage to put Flacco in good third-down situations.
OLB LaMarr Woodley continues to be a big-time player. He had two sacks -- for six in three playoff games -- applied the pressure that forced Flacco into his first postseason interception and helped on a big third-down stop in the first quarter. ILB James Farrior had seven of his nine tackles and a pass break-up in the first half and forced Flacco into a sack one play before Troy Polamalu's INT return.
Troy Polamalu made all the big plays, including the biggest of all -- a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown. Flacco was only 3 of 14 for 39 yards with a 9.8 passer rating in the first half and was picked off three times. Deshea Townsend's interception in the first quarter led to a field goal, but pass interference penalties against CBs Bryant McFadden and Ike Taylor set up both Ravens TDs.
If it weren't for Jeff Reed's three field goals, there wouldn't be much good about the special teams. The Steelers gave up a 46-yard punt return to Jim Leonhard in the second quarter to set up the Ravens' first touchdown. And the punting problems that have plagued them all year almost cost them when Mitch Berger shanked a 21-yarder in the fourth quarter that led to a touchdown.
Mike Tomlin never stopped being aggressive, even though it appeared some of that nerve was going to backfire. Like, why three consecutive passes, leading 13-7, before the two-minute warning? Why not attempt a field goal from the 21 instead of trying one more play when the clock expired? Still, Tomlin ended the AFC title game jinx at Heinz Field for the team's second Super Bowl in four years.Steelers' playoff grade point averagePosition
Gerry Dulac can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .