PITTSBURGH - Big Ben saved his best pass for last.
Ben Roethlisberger tiptoed around the backfield as he was being hurried by Jets defenders on a third-and-6 from the New York 40.
No problem. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback rolled right and hit Antonio Brown for a 14-yard gain with less than two minutes left to seal a 24-19 victory and win the AFC championship.
“That’s us. It’s not always pretty, but somehow we find a way to get it done,” Roethlisberger said.
The Jets were out of timeouts. Three kneel-downs after Big Ben’s big play, the quarterback raised an arm in the air and got mobbed by teammates as the Heinz Field stands rocked.
“This one was for Steelers fans,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers’ season began with Roethlisberger on the sideline for the first four games after the NFL said he had violated the league’s personal conduct policy. He was accused in March of the sexual assault of a 20-year-old college student, but a prosecutor in Georgia declined to bring charges.
The season will end on a very familiar stage – at the Super Bowl.
“I don’t. I don’t. I’ll stop you now,” he said when asked about looking back to September. “Not at all.”
He finished 10 of 19 for 133 yards and two interceptions, though his mobility did give the Jets trouble much of the night. He had 11 carries for 21 yards and a 2-yard scramble into the end zone to give the Steelers a 17-0 lead midway through the second quarter.
But things got dicey for Pittsburgh in the second half, when the Jets defense pitched a shutout on what had been a dominating Steelers offense.
Pittsburgh controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half, even after rookie center Maurkice Pouncey left with a sprained left ankle. Running back Rashard Mendenhall gained 95 of his 121 yards in the first half, twisting his way out of tackles.
New York stiffened against the run after halftime. Roethlisberger was tackled for a safety after a bad snap exchange with Pouncey’s replacement, Doug Legursky, at the 1-yard line with 7:38 left.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with mental errors. We jumped out on them so early ... some of the guys may have lowered some of their energy a little bit,” receiver Hines Ward said.
On the next drive, Jerricho Cotchery’s 4-yard TD catch cut the lead to 24-19, and the Jets kicked the ball back to the Steelers hoping for a big defensive stand.
It wasn’t to be, not with Roethlisberger at the controls. He connected with tight end Heath Miller for a 14-yard completion on second-and-9 from the Pittsburgh 42.
“They were stacked against the run. We knew if we ran the ball three times, it was going to be tough sledding to get 10 yards and get a first down,” Miller said.
The Steelers gained just 4 yards on the next two plays, both runs. Then, Roethlisberger’s last pass turned out to be the biggest of the night.
“We weren’t going to play not to lose,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said about throwing on the final drive.
Roethlisberger is now 10-2 in the postseason. His 35.5 rating Sunday was his second-worst in a playoff game – he had a 22.6 rating in the Steelers’ 21-10 Super Bowl XL victory over Seattle in 2006.
He was better – posting a 93.2 rating – in a 27-23 win over Arizona in Super Bowl XLII two years ago and now has a chance to get his third Super Bowl ring.