Steelers dodge blitz, ground Ravens
The Steelers beat the Baltimore blitz, although not in the manner they had initially intended.
The resourcefulness they exhibited early in the second quarter when a third-and-long call had to be altered on the fly in the face of the Ravens' pressure is a big reason why the Steelers are headed back to the Super Bowl.
It started with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and ended with wide receiver Santonio Holmes.
Their improvisational magic established an early two-score lead in an AFC Championship Game the Steelers went on to win, 23-14, on Sunday evening in front of a record crowd of 65,350 at Heinz Field.
The Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, Feb. 1, at Tampa Bay's Raymond James Stadium.
Round 3 against Baltimore evolved initially into the wrestling match many had anticipated in the wake of a 13-9 victory by the Steelers on Dec. 14 in Baltimore.
That was a contest that included just one touchdown, and that one wasn't officially scored until a completion from Roethlisberger to Holmes that had first been ruled down inside Baltimore's 1-yard line was replay-reviewed into six points with 43 seconds remaining.
This time, Roethlisberger and Holmes left no doubt on what became a 65-yard catch-and-run score.
Or did they?
Leading, 6-0, and facing a third-and-9 from the Pittsburgh 35 44 seconds into the second quarter, the Steelers placed Roethlisberger in shotgun formation. They attacked with three wide receivers, tight end Heath Miller and running back Mewelde Moore, with Miller and Moore deployed flanking Roethlisberger in the backfield.
Roethlisberger accepted the snap, slide-stepped left, found nothing but trouble, and then began moving back to his right, when he spotted Holmes near the right sideline in the vicinity of the Baltimore 47.
The pass, launched with blitzing linebacker Ray Lewis in Roethlisberger's face, wound up inside of where Holmes and cornerback Fabian Washington were positioned.
As Washington attempted to reach back for the ball, he hit the deck.
Holmes adjusted, hauled it in and turned up field.
"He was throwing the ball away," Holmes said. "When he threw the ball, I kind of played possum. And when the DB relaxed, I attacked the football and made a big play.
"I think he was throwing the ball away, honestly. He'll tell you that, too. He'll definitely tell you he was throwing that ball away."
Well, not quite.
"I was about to," Roethlisberger said. "Then, I saw the defender's back was turned, and 'Tone' was looking at me. I figured I could get it in there."
After making the catch and covering approximately 10 yards, Holmes cut back sharply toward the center of the field, where he eluded cornerback Frank Walker and cornerback Corey Ivy and outran the pursuit of safety Haruki Nakamura.
As Holmes raced back toward the left sideline, he picked up blockers that included Miller and wide receiver Nate Washington.
Finally, Holmes was able to dive, extend the ball and beat free safety Ed Reed to the pylon.
"When you give him the ball, he'll do the rest," Roethlisberger said of Holmes.
Once kicker Jeff Reed attended to the extra point, the Steelers were up, 13-0.
The Ravens had yet to register a first down.
Baltimore got as close as 16-14 with 9:29 left, but the early two-score deficit ultimately proved too much to overcome.