PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the Super Bowl again — thanks to a few new faces.
Veteran receiver Hines Ward will be there the next couple weeks to ensure things go smoothly after a 24-19 win Sunday night over the New York Jets to claim the AFC title put the Steelers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6 in Dallas against the Green Bay Packers.
"A lot of our key guys who have been making plays throughout the whole year have never been to the Super Bowl," said Ward, a 13-year veteran. "I am pretty sure that the guys will have lot of anxiety.
It sure didn't look as if running back Rashard Mendenhall and rookie receiver Antonio Brown had butterflies on the chilly turf at Heinz Field.
It is Mendenhall's third season, but his first trip to the Super Bowl after missing the Steelers' 2009 win over the Arizona Cardinals due to an injured shoulder. He ran for 121 yards on 27 carries and a touchdown against the Jets, with 95 yards in a dominating first half.
"It means a lot to be here and to be going to Dallas with these men, especially not having the opportunity the first time," Mendenhall said. "It means so much for this city, and to be a part of it is just an awesome feeling."
Brown had just one catch — but it was huge. The 14-yard completion from a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-6 finally turned aside the surging Jets with less than two minutes left after New York nearly overcame a 21-point halftime deficit.
Roethlisberger was vintage, scrambling out of the pocket, rolling right and eluding two more defenders before finding Brown.
"It was a really, really tight window in order to get it to Hines. My thought was let's try and run it. I started running to the sideline and next thing you know, A.B. comes flying across the field. He beat them with speed," Roethlisberger said.
Just like in the playoff win vs. the Ravens, when his creative 58-yard reception on 3rd and 19 set up Pittsburgh's winning touchdown.
Throw in second-year man Mike Wallace and rookie Emmanuel Sanders and the Steelers have a veritable youth movement going at receiver.
To Big Ben, it just doesn't matter who's catching the passes.
"I have the same amount of confidence in all of them" Roethlisberger said. "It speaks volumes for the way that they work."
He finished 10 of 19 passing for 133 yards and two interceptions, though his mobility did give the Jets trouble much of the night. He had 11 carries for 21 yards and a 2-yard scramble into the end zone to give the Steelers a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
But things got dicey for Pittsburgh after halftime. The Jets defense pitched a second-half shutout on what had been a dominating Steelers offense.
Pittsburgh controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, even after rookie center Maurkice Pouncey left with a sprained left ankle.
Pouncey was on crutches after the game with his left ankle wrapped. He was replaced by Doug Legursky.
"I am sure we will have more information that will be debated here in the next couple of weeks. But it's a great debate to have, isn't it?" coach Mike Tomlin said.
New York stiffened against the run after halftime. Roethlisberger was tackled for a safety after a bad snap exchange at the 1 with 7:38 left.
"We shot ourselves in the foot with mental errors. We jumped out on them so early ... some of the guys may have lowered some of their energy a little bit," receiver Ward said.
On the next drive, Jerricho Cotchery's 4-yard TD catch cut the lead to five, and the Jets kicked the ball back to the Steelers hoping for a big defensive stand.
It wasn't to be, not with Roethlisberger at the controls. He connected with Miller for a first down on a 14-yard completion on second-and-9.
The Steelers gained just four yards on the next two plays, both runs. Then, Roethlisberger's last pass turned out to be the most important of the night, to the rookie Brown.
"We weren't going to play not to lose," Tomlin said about throwing on the final drive.