PITTSBURGH – Looking back doesn't suit Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers, especially with what they can look forward to.
Yet another trip to the Super Bowl.
Terrible Towels will wave again at the NFL's title game in Dallas, where the Steelers will meet Green Bay after silencing Rex Ryan and the New York Jets 24-19 Sunday for the AFC championship.
The Steelers used Roethlisberger's scrambling, Rashard Mendenhall's versatile running and their powerful defense to secure their eighth conference crown. Look out Big D, here comes another big D — in black and gold, and with an unmatched history of carrying off the Lombardi Trophy.
Quite an achievement considering their quarterback sat out the first four games of the season while suspended for violating the league's personal conduct policy.
"I'll stop you now," Roethlisberger said when asked if he reflects on that early-season stretch. "I don't. Not at all."
Still, when Pittsburgh (14-4) had hung on after building a 24-0 lead on a frigid night, Roethlisberger knelt on the turf and buried his head in an AFC championship shirt.
"I'm going to enjoy this," he later said.
No one had to ask what he meant. He's a victory over the Packers away from his third Super Bowl title in six years.
"Shoot, any time you get to the Super Bowl, it feels good," he said. "I don't care what you're going through or what's going on. We put a lot of stuff behind us early and found a way."
They clearly found a way to shut down the Jets' season, ending it the way it started — with hard knocks. And not the kind on HBO.
"We played a good half. We never played a good game, and that was the difference," Ryan said. "You get to this point, you've got to play a great game against a great opponent and we played a good half and that was it."
While Ryan lost for the third straight year in this game — he slammed his headset to the turf after New York's final chance disappeared — the Steelers get to challenge the Packers, who are 2½-point favorites.
"A Super Bowl is a Super Bowl," Roethlisberger said. "It doesn't matter if it's your first one or your 10th one."
It would be Pittsburgh's seventh NFL championship.
"We're used to this," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "We're just trying to win No. 7, get to seventh heaven."
They got to this Super Bowl with a brilliant first half behind Roethlisberger and Mendenhall, and with a defense that had a fumble return by William Gay for a touchdown. Later came a goal-line stand that blunted the Jets' comeback in the fourth quarter.
Watch out, Aaron Rodgers.
"We showed up big and we scored on defense," linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. "When you score on defense, you usually come out on top."
The Steelers ended the Jets' season with a dominant first half for a 24-3 lead. Mendenhall had 95 of his 121 yards and a touchdown.
"I think as a defense if you can't stop the run, it's a demoralizing thing," he said. "And since we were able to do that today, I am sure that hurt them a little."
Much more than a little.
And so did Roethlisberger's ability to escape the pass rush.
"That definitely hurt us," linebacker Jason Taylor said.
Roethlisberger sat out the season's first four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy — an outgrowth of a college student's accusations that he sexually assaulted her in Georgia last March. The quarterback was never prosecuted over what was the second such set of allegations against him.
Now, another Super Bowl.
"That's us," he said. "It's not always pretty, but somehow we find a way to get it done."
The cocky Jets seemed to have left everything they had in New England last Sunday. There was little trash talking all week and even less fire early in their biggest game since winning the championship 42 years ago. They haven't been back to the Super Bowl.
The Steelers are regulars, including Super Bowl titles for the 2005 and 2008 teams, both led by Roethlisberger and a fierce defense sparked by playmaking safety Troy Polamalu.
Polamalu, his long hair flowing from under his helmet, didn't have to do a whole lot this time. Not with the way his teammates whipped the Jets at the line of scrimmage before a spirited New York surge in the second half.
"We overcame a lot more obstacles this year than we have in the past," Polamalu said. "But we still got one more to go. "
And too often, New York's defense was like a swinging gate that Roethlisberger and Mendenhall ran through with ease.
New York (13-6) failed for the fourth time in the AFC title game since 1969, when the Jets won perhaps the most significant of all Super Bowls. It was a devastating finish, particularly after the Jets beat Peyton Manning and the Colts, then Tom Brady and the Patriots on the road to get to Pittsburgh.
Asked if he would change anything about this season, Ryan said, "I would change the outcome of this game and that's the only thing I would change. We don't need to apologize to anybody. We'll be back, you'll see."
The Steelers stopped New York's hopes of making the Super Bowl a sixth-seed spectacular — the Packers are the NFC's No. 6 seed.
Coach Mike Tomlin's team was eager for the fight from the outset, while Ryan's guys were flat until it was too late. The Jets did get a 45-yard TD pass from Mark Sanchez to Santonio Holmes — the hero of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl victory two years ago — and a safety after Pittsburgh's goal-line stand.
But the early hole was too deep, even after a 4-yard TD pass to Jerricho Cotchery made it 24-19 with 3:06 remaining. The Jets never got the ball back.
Pittsburgh set the early tone with a 66-yard march that took up the first nine minutes, with Roethlisberger displaying his scrambling skills on several plays, including a key 12-yard run on third-and-12. Mendenhall reached the ball over the goal line from the 1, the final of a 15-play drive in which the Steelers pushed around Ryan's pride and joy.
But Pittsburgh also lost outstanding rookie center Maurkice Pouncey with a sprained left ankle, leaving it with just one backup offensive lineman.
It was the Jets who were struggling to block, though. And catch, with the usually sure-handed Cotchery making a key third-down drop.
Or tackle. Mendenhall found seams to the left, right or up the middle. His 35-yard sprint in the second quarter led to Shaun Suisham's 20-yard field goal and a 10-0 lead that was insurmountable the way the Jets were whiffing.
It became 17-0 as Roethlisberger scooted into the end zone from the 2. Just 47 seconds later, Ike Taylor sacked Sanchez, forcing a fumble that William Gay ran 22 yards for a 24-0 lead.
Then the Jets began their comeback.
Nick Folk made a 42-yard field goal at the end of the first half as Pittsburgh went to a prevent defense. Holmes got behind Taylor down the right sideline for his TD, and Mike DeVito pulled down Roethlisberger in the end zone after the quarterback fumbled a snap.
The record crowd of 66,662 lost its fervor when Cotchery came free in the left flat for his score.
But Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 14 yards, then Brown for 14 to send the Steelers to yet another Super Bowl.
Notes: Tomlin, only the third coach in Pittsburgh since 1969 — Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls and Bill Cowher one — led the Steelers to the NFL championship in 2008. He could become the second coach with two titles in his first four seasons — Joe Gibbs is the other — with a victory against Green Bay. ... Sanchez fell short of becoming the first quarterback with five road playoff wins. ... Pittsburgh is 8-7 in AFC championship games, 6-5 at home. ... Steelers LB LaMarr Woodley had one sack, giving him a sack in six straight postseason games, an NFL record.