The Steelers overcame a bumbling, fumbling first half by scoring three times off three third-quarter turnovers to roar from behind to a pulsating 31-24 playoff victory at raucous Heinz Field tonight.
With the game tied and the Steelers facing a third-and-19 at their 38 with just over two minutes left, Ben Roethlisberger uncorked a deep pass that rookie Antonio Brown caught and then held control by holding it against his helmet before his momentum took him out of bounds at the Baltimore four with 1:58 to go.
It took four plays plus a Ravens penalty but on third down Rashard Mendenhall ran up the middle for a touchdown to put the Steelers on top by seven with 1:33 left.
The Steelers will play the winner of Sunday's New York Jets-New England Patriots playoff game for the AFC championship Jan. 23. If the Jets win, the game will be in Heinz Field. If the Patriots win, it will be in New England.
The Steelers overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit that Baltimore ran out to after scoring two touchdowns off two Steelers fumbles.
However, as poorly as the Steelers looked in the first half, the Ravens looked that bad in the third quarter when three turnovers led to three Steelers scores as they took a 24-21 lead early in the fourth quarter.
Trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Steelers scored a touchdown quickly in the third quarter after Baltimore's first turnover of the game -- a fumble by Ray Rice caused by safety Ryan Clark at the Baltimore 23.
It took two plays for the Steelers to score when Ben Roethlisberger found Heath Miller wide open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown to cut the lead to 21-14.
Clark, having the game of his life, then intercepted Joe Flacco on the next Baltimore series and returned it 17 yards to the 25. three plays later, Roethlisberger rifled a pass to Hines Ward for an 8-yard touchdown and a tie game.
Baltimore wasn't done with its giving mood as Flacco fumbled the second snap from scrimmage on the next series and Brett Keisel recovered for the Steelers at the Ravens' 23.
That set up Shaun Suisham's 35-yard field goal to put the Steelers ahead 24-21 with 12:15 left in the game.
The Steelers, though, had to punt with 6:11 left from their 10 and that set the Ravens up after a 36-yard return at the Steelers' 29.
On the first play, Todd Heap beat Troy Polamalu to catch a 21-yard pass to give Baltimore a first down on the eight. That led to Billy Cundiff's 24-yard field goal that tied the score 24-24 with 3:54 left.
Baltimore scored two touchdowns on two short drives after Steelers turnovers in the first half -- a fumble by Roethlisberger that all but one player thought was an incomplete pass, and a Rashard Mendenhall fumble.
The half ended, appropriately enough, with a missed 43-yard field goal by the Steelers' Shaun Suisham. It also ended without coach Mike Tomlin having a challenge left via instant replay and with cornerback Bryant McFadden out of the game with a re-injury to his hip/groin/abdomen.
After leading 7-0, the Steelers fell behind quickly 14-7 by the end of the first quarter as Ray Rice Ran 14 yards to cap one drive and then Baltimore scored on a strange play and mental lapse by the Steelers.
On second down from his 10, Roethlisberger dropped back with no one else in the backfield and as he set to throw, he was hit from behind by linebacker Terrell Suggs and the ball popped forward.
The players reacted as if it were an incomplete pass, even though no official blew a whistle. Steelers guard Ramon Foster walked right past the loose football, which had come to rest at the 13. Even the Ravens paid no interest in it -- all except defensive end Cory Redding.
Redding scooped the ball and ran 13 yards into the endzone for a touchdown and a 14-7 Baltimore lead.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin challenged the play but was turned down. It was his second and last challenge permitted for the game and the first quarter wasn't over yet.
By the time it was, officials led by referee Jeff Triplette had marked off six penalties for a combined 106 yards -- four of them for 59 yards against the Steelers.
The Steelers struck first and they struck big when Rashard Mendenhall ran into the end zone from the one to cap a 10-play, 80-yard drive. They really traveled 89 yards after a Hines Ward unnecessary roughness penalty on Ed Reed stuck them back to the two.
But a 20-yard pass to Mike Wallace on third-and-12, and then a 37-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Josh Wilson against Wallace on a deep pass that might have gone for a touchdown, put the Steelers on Baltimore's 25.
The Steelers ran seven straight times, including a Roethlisberger scramble, to score the game's first touchdown.
The Ravens responded on their next drive with one of their own to tie the game. As with the Steelers touchdown drive, Baltimore's became possible because of a big pass interference penalty. The Ravens were down to a third-and-15 at the Steelers' 47 when Joe Flacco cut loose with a deep pass toward Derrick Mason. The ball seemed to be a little overthrown but when Steelers cornerback Anthony Madison -- in the game as a nickel back because of McFadden's injury -- ran straight into Mason, a 33-yard pass interference penalty was called to give the Ravens a first down at the 14.
Two plays later, Ray Rice ran through a big hole off right guard and then broke tackles by William Gay and Troy Polamalu for a 14-yard TD that tied it 7-7.
Then came the unusual play that put the Steelers behind 14-7.
But it did not stop there. Mendenhall fumbled at his 16-yard line and six plays later Flacco threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap, who was wide open in the right corner.
With 5:43 left in the first half, Baltimore had more points than they had in any full game against the Steelers since 2007 with a 21-7 lead.
The Steelers came back with a late drive that started on their 26 but was pushed back to the 17 on a first-down sack of Roethlisberger. He completed a third-down pass over the middle to rookie Emmanuel Sanders.
The drive stalled at the 25 and Suisham came on to miss a 43-yard field goal attempt, wide to the left.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com .