Now he will lead the Steelers into their eighth Super Bowl, a game they handle pretty well — and have a record six titles to show for it.
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.
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. “
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 snapped 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.