Fittingly enough, the Pittsburgh Steelers brought back the home-field advantage to the NFL playoffs. Now they get to stay at home for the AFC championship game, and against the rival they dislike more than any other. The team with the NFLs best home-field record since the 1970 NFL merger shook off a 7-0 deficit barely two minutes into the game, shut down pint-sized playmaker Darren Sproles and returned some normalcy to the NFL postseason by beating the San Diego Chargers 35-24 in an AFC divisional game Sunday. With a now-healthy Willie Parker running for 146 yards and two touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger shaking off his late-season concussion to throw for a score and lead an efficient offense, the Steelers did what the favored Titans, Panthers and Giants couldnt do by winning at home. It was the first time since 1971 that three road teams won during a single playoff weekend, and the Steelers made certain that road teams didnt go 4-for-4. The Steelers had the worst offense of any playoff team coming in, only to put up 35 points to support the NFLs top-ranked defense. Now, its time for Ravens vs. Steelers Part III next Sunday – the third and most intriguing matchup this season between the cant-stand-each other AFC North rivals. The Steelers have never beaten the Ravens three times in a season although theyve never had the chance, but they did beat Baltimores forerunners, the old Cleveland Browns, three times during the 1994 season. Pittsburgh won the earlier two games, 23-20 in overtime in Pittsburgh – when the Ravens supposedly put bounties on several Steelers players – and by 13-9 during the Dec. 14 rematch in Baltimore that secured the divisional title for Pittsburgh. The games were two of the NFLs most physical this season, with injuries all around, and playing for a chance to go to the Super Bowl will only ratchet up the intensity, physicality and, no doubt, the dislike. There was much to like for the Steelers in this one as they made certain that the Chargers stars from their 23-17 wild-card upset of the Colts didnt repeat their performances and allow San Diego to become the first team to go .500 during the season to win twice in the postseason. The Steelers spotted San Diego a 7-0 lead on Vincent Jacksons acrobatic 41-yard catch of Philip Rivers pass four plays into the game, but, like San Diegos 7-0 lead in its bizarre 11-10 loss in Pittsburgh on Nov. 16, the Chargers couldnt make it stand up as 1,100-yard rusher LaDainian Tomlinson sat out with a groin injury. Sproles, coming off his all-around 328-yard game against the Colts, wasnt a factor despite a 63-yard kickoff return and a 62-yard TD catch in the final two minutes after Pittsburgh had opened a 35-17 lead. He was held to 15 yards on 11 carries after rushing for 105 the week before. Of course, its tough to score when a team doesnt have the ball. Thanks to a nearly eight-minute Steelers scoring drive that ended with Roethlisbergers 8-yard TD pass, Philip Rivers interception on a first down from the Pittsburgh 23 and a punt that bounced off Eric Weddles helmet and Pittsburgh recovered, the Chargers had the ball all of 17 seconds in the third quarter to the Steelers 14:43.
Tags: AFC, afc championship game, Ben Roethlisberger, Cleveland Browns, darren sproles, divisional game, home field advantage, NFL FOOTBALL, NFL Playoffs, nfl postseason, No Doubt, Normalcy, Philip Rivers, Physicality, Pittsburgh Steelers, Playmaker, Ranked Defense, San Diego Chargers, steelers players, willie parker
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