On the Steelers: For Steelers, there's no place like home
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James Farrior picked a winner.
"I'm rooting for the Jets," the Steelers defensive captain said, and that is who he and his teammates will get, and at home to boot.
By virtue of their 28-21 upset victory Sunday of the New England Patriots, the New York Jets will play the Steelers in Heinz Field at 6:30 p.m. Sunday in the AFC championship game.
"We love to play at home," Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth said.
Had the top-seeded Patriots won, the Steelers, the No. 2 playoff seed, would have gone to New England. Instead, they will play their second AFC title game in three years at Heinz Field.
"It'll be nice to have home-field advantage, but it's even greater that we're playing next week," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said.
It is the second time in three seasons the No. 1 seed lost to send the AFC championship game to Pittsburgh. It also occurred when Baltimore upset Tennessee in the 2008 playoffs.
The winner Sunday will advance to the Super Bowl Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Jets entered the playoffs as the lowest seed, No. 6, and are trying to follow the Steelers' path in the 2005 season in which they became the first team in history to win three playoff games on the road and then the Super Bowl.
The Jets had never won a game in Pittsburgh until Dec. 19, when they beat the Steelers, 22-17.
"We played the Jets the last time it was close and probably a game we thought we should have had," Mr. Spaeth said. "We get them at home and we're looking forward to it, to kind of right our wrongs from the last time we played them."
In that game, the Steelers led, 17-10, in the third quarter until New York scored three times -- a Mark Sanchez bootleg 7-yard touchdown run, a field goal and a safety.
Linebacker James Harrison blamed himself for allowing the quarterback's touchdown run that tied it. Mr. Harrison went for the fake inside when he should have stayed his ground on the outside.
"That's another situation where it was a play here, a play there," Mr. Harrison said of the game's closeness. "We gave up a touchdown down there on fourth-and-1, that was a mis-execution on me. I played it as I thought they were going to do it but I didn't play it as my responsibility told me and he scooted out and got a touchdown."
The Steelers' 31-24 comeback victory Saturday against Baltimore put them in their 15th conference championship game, more than any team since the 1970 NFL merger. Dallas has appeared in 14. The Steelers reached their first title game in 1972, when they lost at Three Rivers Stadium, 21-17, to the unbeaten Miami Dolphins, who went on to win Super Bowl VII.
This is the Steelers' fifth AFC championship game in the past 10 seasons. They previously appeared two seasons ago when they beat Baltimore and proceeded to win their sixth Super Bowl. The Steelers have won seven of their previous 14 championship games and each of their past two. They are 1-2 in championship games at Heinz Field, losing to the New England Patriots after the 2001 and 2004 seasons.
The Steelers want to even the score, both in title games at Heinz Field and with the Jets this season.
"We're very excited to be going back to the AFC championship game but it's all for naught if we can't take care of it," defensive end Brett Keisel said.
What might be the difference in the outcome with the Jets this time?
"Because it has to be, plain and simple," safety Ryan Clark said. "We have to do a better job. No. 43's back, too."
That would be Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' superstar strong safety who missed games against the Jets and Carolina with an Achilles-related injury. He has played in the past two games.
The Steelers outgained the Jets in that game, 378 yards to 276, but New York's Brad Smith returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.
"I'm sure we're going to take some things from it," Mr. Keisel said of the loss a month ago to the Jets. "Hopefully we learn from the mistakes we made that got us beat, to correct them and not make them again."
First Published January 17, 2011 12:00 am