PITTSBURGH - A most fitting comeback for Ben Roethlisberger.
The Steelers’ quarterback connected on a 58-yard pass to rookie Antonio Brown with less than two minutes to go that ended any ideas the Ravens had of finally winning a playoff game against their division rivals.
Four plays later in the rough-and-tumble matchup, Rashard Mendenhall scored from 2 yards out with 1:33 left to lift the Steelers to a 31-24 victory over the error-prone Ravens in Saturday’s AFC divisional playoff game.
Just before his biggest pass of the season, Roethlisberger said he told offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, “Let’s send (Brown). Let’s just chuck it deep. If they pick it, it will be a pick way down there, just as good as a punt. I just throw it as far as I can.’ ”
He did. Brown made the biggest catch of his life, and the Steelers (13-4) are a win away from their third Super Bowl in six seasons. The Steelers play the winner of today’s game between the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
Roethlisberger took his shots early from the Ravens’ defense, but threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns before his big pass on third-and-19.
“He may not be Brady or all those other guys, but when I see him in the huddle I know we’ve got a chance to win,” said Hines Ward, who caught a TD pass. “He’s a proven winner. And history shows he’s a proven winner against Baltimore.”
The third meeting this season between these AFC North rivals had the usual skirmishes, but also was filled with penalties and turnovers.
It’s been a rugged season for the Steelers’ quarterback. His life and reputation was in tatters 10 months ago after sexual assault allegations that weren’t prosecuted. He was suspended for the first four games, then helped his team finish with 12 victories and a first-round bye.
While the Steelers trailed by two TDs at halftime, it was the Ravens who fell apart in the second half as the Steelers moved to 9-0 against division teams in the playoffs.
Roethlisberger went deep down the depth chart to find Brown, only the eighth leading receiver for Pittsburgh.
“It was kind of amazing,” Brown said. “It kind of stuck to my shoulder.”
The loss will stick with the Ravens for seasons.
The Steelers were trailing 21-7 after turnovers created two Ravens touchdowns. But Pittsburgh rallied with the help of three Baltimore turnovers in the third quarter. It was so bad, the Ravens’ minus-4 yards in offense wasn’t the worst of it; they ended with 28 yards in the second half.
“We knew we had to play great; we knew if we didn’t play great we were going to lose this game,” defensive end Brett Keisel said.
Baltimore was outgained 263-126 as Joe Flacco was 16 of 30 for 125 yards as the Ravens became the eighth team in NFL playoff history to fail to gain at least 100 yards in the first three quarters. All eight teams lost.
The Ravens’ last chance to beat the Steelers ended when T.J. Houshmandzadeh dropped Flacco’s fourth-down pass at the Steelers’ 38 with 1:03 remaining.