Published January 23, 2011
PITTSBURGH – Rashard Mendenhall ran for a touchdown and nearly 100 yards and Pittsburgh shut down the New York Jets offense to take a 24-3 halftime lead in the AFC championship game Sunday night at chilly Heinz Field.
Already leading 10-0, the Steelers scored 14 points in 47 seconds over the final 2 minutes of the half. Ben Roethlisberger had a 2-yard TD run just before the two-minute warning, and William Gay returned a fumble by Mark Sanchez 19 yards for a score with 1:13 to play.
Sanchez was slow in getting up on the play and was holding his left arm as he went to the sideline. He did return for the following possession — one in which the Jets gained more than half of their yards — and is 7 for 15 for 63 yards.
Nick Folk hit a 42-yard field goal to account for the Jets points.
Pittsburgh is looking to advance to its third Super Bowl in the six years. The Steelers have 135 yards rushing and have limited New York to 1 yard rushing on five attempts.
The winner advances to play Green Bay in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 at Cowboys Stadium in Texas. The Packers beat the Bears 21-14 in Chicago earlier Sunday.
Mendenhall's 1-yard TD run capped a drive of 15 plays and 9:02 on the game's opening possession. Mendenhall has three touchdowns already this postseason and seven in his past five games overall. He has 95 yards rushing on 17 carries and two catches for 32 yards.
Roethlisberger completed 3 of 5 passes for 20 yards on the opening drive and also scrambled for 12 yards on third-and-12 from the Jets' 25. Two plays later, Roethlisberger hit Hines Ward to the 1.
Roethlisberger was 7 for 14 for 96 yards and an interception, his first in five games when a screen pass on fourth-and-1 from the New York 32 in the second quarter deflected off Mendenhall's fingers into the arms of Bryan Thomas.
Steelers rookie Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey went down with a left ankle injury during the first quarter when Thomas got pushed back into Pouncey and rolled over the back of the center's leg. Pouncey hopped off the field with the aid of two trainers.
He was replaced by Doug Legursky and his return is questionable.
New York receiver Jerricho Cotchery limped off the field late in the second quarter while favoring his left leg after blocking on a kickoff return.
The Jets moved into Pittsburgh territory on their first drive but punted after reaching the 44. They went three-and-out and went backward on each of their next two possessions.
Gametime temperature for the fourth AFC championship to be played in the 10-year history of Heinz Field was 17 degrees with a wind chill factor of 5.
Roethlisberger was limping after taking a shot from Calvin Pace in his left leg after pitching the ball to Mendenhall during the game's first drive. He did not miss a play.
The Jets are playing their sixth consecutive playoff game on the road over the past two years, having won four of the previous five. They have already won against Peyton Manning and the Colts and Tom Brady and the Patriots in the past two weeks.
The Steelers came into the game off a 31-24 win against the rival Baltimore Ravens last week.
The Jets have never won an AFC championship game — New York's win in the 1969 Super Bowl came after they had won the old AFL.
They also had never won in Pittsburgh in seven trips here a 22-17 win on Dec. 19. The Steelers' Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller did not play in that game due to injury.
Pittsburgh is playing in its league record 15th conference title game, having won its most recent after the 2008 season.
The teams' most recent meeting in the postseason was a 2004 divisional playoff in which New York's Doug Brien missed two field goals late in regulation before the Steelers won in overtime 20-17.