Steelers Notebook: Running game took flight against Jets
Rashard Mendenhall picks up a first down against the Jets in the first half of the AFC championship Sunday at Heinz Field.
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Center Maurkice Pouncey started every game for the Steelers this season, and despite a high-ankle sprain that forced him to watch the final three quarters of Sunday's AFC championship game in street clothes, the rookie from the University of Florida said he will start Super Bowl XLV.
"Most definitely," Pouncey said when asked whether he would be playing against the Packers in two weeks in Dallas. "I had this same injury before on my other ankle and I know how to attack it. I know how to approach things. I know in my heart I'm playing in that game."
Pouncey said he knew he would not be able to return to the game as soon as the injury occurred. He said he heard a pop in the ankle after a Jets defensive lineman rolled up on him.
"It was the worst pain ever," he said.
Pouncey said he had a similar injury when he was a sophomore at Florida, and he came back to play the next game. He said he expets to hear from trainers today how badly the ankle is injured.
Pouncey was hurt on the Steelers' first drive. On the play Pouncey was injured, Ben Roethlisberger threw a pass to Hines Ward for a first down to the Jets' 1.
Backup Doug Legursky replaced Pouncey, and Rashard Mendenhall scored on the first play after Pouncey exited.
Legursky and Roethlisberger did have their issues with the quarterback-center exchange. Roethlisberger fumbled a snap twice, including one in the fourth quarter that resulted in a safety that made the score, 24-12, with 7:44 remaining.
Rookie receiver Antonio Brown came through with a clutch catch for the second consecutive week in the playoffs. And for the second consecutive week the play came at crunch time.
It was Brown who caught a 58-yard pass from Roethlisberger just before the two minute warning to set up the winning score against the Ravens last week. And it was Brown who came through again Sunday night on a crucial third-and-6 on the first play after the two-minute warning.
Brown came back for a pass from Roethlisberger after the play broke down. Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket and located Brown for a first down. Following Brown's catch, the Steelers were able to run out the clock.
"My number again was called just like last week," Brown said.
The Jets beat Peyton Manning. They beat Tom Brady. They couldn't beat Ben Roethlisberger, and it frustrated them greatly.
While Roethlisberger's statistics -- 10 of 19, 133 yards, no passing touchdowns -- don't read like those of a quarterback who is headed to the Super Bowl for the third time in six seasons, he hurt them in ways that Manning or Brady never could.
The Jets said Roethlisberger's toughness in shaking off a first half thigh injury to repeatedly extend plays separated him from the star quarterbacks they beat the previous two weeks. They knew they wouldn't get that from Manning or Brady, who leave the pocket only if it's an emergency.
"He's a different type of guy we played in the last two weeks," safety Brodney Pool said.
"We had him bottled up and ... " defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "We had a great game plan but it shrinks when a team is allowed to do what it wants to do."
The Steelers had some fun at the Jets' expense as they came off the field and entered the locker room after the game.
"Can't wait," Ryan Clark screamed. "Can't wait to get on this jet."
"Can't wait to get to D-town," injured offensive lineman Willie Colon chanted.
The mock "can't waits" came because of an interview Jets linebacker Bart Scott gave a reporter after the Patriots game last week when he said he "can't wait" to get to Pittsburgh.
Former Jet James Farrior got in a jab at Jets coach Rex Ryan, who stated the first two playoff games against the Colts and Patriots were "personal."
"Next time, it's personal," Farrior shouted.
The Steelers played a playoff game against a team that defeated them during the regular season for the 17th time and are now 9-8 in such rematches.
Only once before did the Steelers lose both games at home, against Jacksonville in 2007.
Sunday night's game was the first rematch against a team that defeated the Steelers in the regular season in the conference championship game since the Chargers beat the Steelers to advance to the Super Bowl after the 1994 season. The Chargers beat the Steelers, 37-34, on Christmas Eve that year in San Diego and then beat the Steelers, 17-13, in the title game at Three Rivers Stadium.
The Steelers played in an NFL record 15th conference championship game Sunday night. They are 8-7 in AFC championship games and 6-5 in title games played in Pittsburgh.
It was the 11th AFC championship game played in Pittsburgh. The Steelers also played in title games in three other cities -- Oakland (twice), Miami and Denver.
The Steelers of the 1990s can relate to this: The Jets' record in AFC (or AFL) championship games isn't all that enviable. They beat the Raiders in the 1968 AFL title game -- a matchup create with the help of a little girl named Heidi -- but are 0-4 since. They lost AFC championship games in 1983 (14-0 to the Dolphins in a Miami monsoon), 1999 (23-10 to Denver after leading 10-0) and last season to the Colts (30-17).
The Jets-Raiders game preceded Joe Namath's famous I'll-guarantee-it Super Bowl win against the Colts and came six weeks after the same teams played the so-called "Heidi Game."
With the Jets leading, 32-29, with 1:05 remaining on Nov. 17, 1968, NBC cut off East Coast viewers so a broadcast of the children's fable Heidi could air on time. Much of the country couldn't see it, but the Raiders rallied to score two touchdowns and win, 43-32. The Raiders-Jets rematch on Dec. 29, 1968, in Shea Stadium was aired in its entirety, a week after the Raiders beat Kansas City in a divisional playoff for the West title.
The Jets are convinced that 1 yard kept them out of the Super Bowl.
They gained only a single yard on four plays during a Steelers' goal-line stand with the Steelers ahead 24-10 in the fourth quarter. After Shonn Greene gained a yard on first down from the 2, Mark Sanchez twice threw incomplete before LaDainian Tomlinson was stacked up by Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton on fourth-and-1.
"They had our number on it. It seemed like they knew what we were going to call every single time," guard Matt Slauson said. "They blitzed perfectly and we just didn't get it done with our one-on-one matchups."
That 1 yard will haunt coach Rex Ryan's team for a long time. Maybe for months and months and months if there's no NFL labor settlement.
"This one stings. It hurts and it's supposed to. We are going to be back and we're going to win it the next time." Slauson said.
Steelers receiver Hines Ward caught a pass on the first drive of the game. It was the 16th consecutive playoff game in which Ward had a reception. Ward is one shy of tying the club record, which is held by John Stallworth.
Tight end Heath Miller went over 400 career postseason yards. He became the sixth player in club history to surpass 400 yards receiving and the 11th tight end in NFL history to reach 400 postseason receiving yards.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley became the first player in NFL history to post at least one sack in six consecutive playoff games. Woodley also recorded 10 postseason sacks quicker than any other player in league history since sacks became a statistic in 1982. Previously, Chicago's Richard Dent had 10 sacks in his first seven playoffs games.
Most members of the Steelers are probably more familiar with the Sugar Hill Gang rather than the Over-the-Hill Gang, but they'll likely become more familiar with the latter now that they have advanced to the Super Bowl.
The Over-the-Hill Gang was the nickname attached to the Washington Redskins of the early 1970s because coach George Allen brought in many veteran players in an effort to make the Redskins a contender. After the 1972 season, the Redskins won the NFC championship game and advanced to Super Bowl VII against the Dolphins.
The Steelers have eight starters over the age of 30, and can be thought of as a modern-day Over-the-Hill Gang as they attempt to win a third Super Bowl in the span if six years. Six of the players who started the game on defense Sunday night were 30 or older.
Two more starters on offense -- Ward and Flozell Adams -- are 34 and 36, respectively.
First Published January 24, 2011 12:00 am