Steelers restore order after wacky weekend

| Monday, Jan. 12, 2009

So much for this being the year of the San Diego Chargers — the underdog, the flavor of the week and one of the NFL's hottest teams all rolled into one.

How about this for a novel idea?

How about the best team advancing to next next Sunday's AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field?

How about the Steelers beating the pesky Chargers, 35-24, becoming the only home team to win a divisional playoff game?

Down went the New York Giants, Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans.

The Steelers brought some order to what had been a wacky weekend of postseason football.

"As the weekend wore on, it became evident it wasn't good to be the home team. I was probably more concerned than my players were," said Mike Tomlin, the first coach in Steelers history to win division titles in his first two seasons and the first to reach the conference championship game so early in his tenure. "We're a confident group, not overly so. They just went about doing what they came to do today."

Just like the other home teams in the divisional round, the Steelers were favored to win following a bye week. To their credit, they didn't blink like the Giants, Panthers and Titans. Although, they did trail, 7-0, less than three minutes into the game.

The Steelers dominated time of possession by an astounding 13-minute margin and didn't turn the ball over.

Let me repeat myself.

The Steelers didn't turn the ball over in 70 offensive plays against a San Diego defense that forced 11 turnovers in the final four weeks of the regular season.

That's winning football, folks. Championship football, if the Steelers knock off the Baltimore Ravens next week for the third time this season.

"We talked about all the home teams, the No. 1 and 2 seeds, they weren't playing as well. But we all (knew) the road to the Super Bowl can run through Pittsburgh once we saw that Baltimore won (against Tennessee)," said receiver Santonio Holmes, whose electrifying 67-yard punt return for a touchdown made the score 7-7 in the first quarter. "It was time to turn it on from there."

The Steelers returned to their roots — the ground game — and blasted San Diego's front seven into submission.

Willie Parker got his groove back, rushing for 146 and two touchdowns — the second time this season he's topped 100 yards against San Diego.

Gashing the Chargers in the run game was a no-brainer for the Steelers. So was turning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger loose.

Big Ben didn't put up big numbers — 17-of-26 for 181 yards and a touchdown — against the Chargers, but he didn't have to, thanks to Parker and the offensive line.

Ben Roethlisberger and the offense made some clutch, drive-sustaining, backbreaking plays on third down — five consecutive during one stretch.

"They had an extra week. It helped them offensively," San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "They got back to the run, and that certainly helps their quarterback."

The Steelers' defense was, well, the Steelers' defense.

"There's two or three teams in the league that play defense like that," Turner said after the Steelers held the Chargers to 15 yards rushing — 15! — and sacked quarterback Philip Rivers four times.

Two of those teams will face each other next Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Heinz Field.

"We are keeping it in the proper perspective because this is going to be a big week," Tomlin said.

The bigger, the better, as far as the Steelers are concerned.

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