Pittsburgh, Pa.—Eric Weddle committed a costly pass interference penalty in the end zone, Gary Russell took the ball in on a sweep, and it was game, set, match.
The touchdown by Russell was just one small part of an impressive 35-24 home victory over the visiting San Diego Chargers Sunday afternoon.
After an early wake-up call to start the game, Pittsburgh did what they do best—dominate on defense and run the ball down your throat.
Phillip Rivers connected with Vincent Jackson for 41 yards and a touchdown to give San Diego the early lead 7-0.
But a childish unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Jackson pushed the Chargers back to their 15-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, and it was all Steelers, all the time from then until the end of the fourth quarter.
Ben Roethlisberger showed no ill effects from the concussion he suffered against the Browns in the final week of the regular season, completing 17-of-26 passes for 181 yards and a touchdown, an eight-yard strike to Heath Miller in the third quarter.
Roethlisberger even saw duty as a punter with a surprise kick on fourth-and-one, a 25-yard pooch kick that at the time gave him more punt yardage than passing yardage.
Special teams got into the act as well with Santonio Holmes getting only the second punt return touchdown of his career, a 67-yard steeplechase romp that saw him avoid the last tackler with a hurdle en route to the touchdown.
The Steelers' defense was spectacular. Darren Sproles, the hero of the Chargers' win over Indianapolis, was limited to 15 yards on 11 carries. He did little better receiving—a late fourth quarter reception for 62 yards and a touchdown did little to affect the final outcome.
Rivers was able to find the end zone three times against the Steelers' secondary, but a key interception in the third quarter set up what has to go down as one of the most dominant quarters ever played in the history of professional football.
Pittsburgh received the ball first to start the second half. After driving downfield to take a 21-10 lead, they kicked off to the Chargers. On San Diego's first play of the drive, Rivers was intercepted by Larry Foote, a play that was challenged and upheld on review.
San Diego didn't touch the ball on offense again in the third quarter.
One play in the third quarter. Time of possession in the quarter: 23 seconds.
Gotta be a record.
San Diego made a valiant attempt to come back in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers were just too much to handle on both sides of the ball.
Rivers got two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth, connecting with Legedu Nanee and Sproles, but it was too little, too late.
Gary Russell and Willie Parker—who also showed no ill effects from injuries that had him sidelined for a good part of the season—powered the ball in for a touchdown apiece in the fourth quarter, the defense stood firm, and Byron Leftwich replaced Roethlisberger with 3:15 left in the game to close out the only home win of the divisional playoff round.
You would be hard-pressed to find much wrong with the Steelers' play today. They excelled in all areas of the game, and it showed.
Ben Roethlisberger, 17-of-26 for 181 yards and a touchdown. No interceptions.
Willie Parker, 27 carries for 146 yards and two touchdowns, and the second longest run from scrimmage in his playoff career—a 27-yard rumble off the right side just prior to his second touchdown of the game.
Lamar Woodley, two sacks.
Brent Keisel and James Harrison, one sack each.
Larry Foote, one interception—the third quarter pick that kept Rivers and Co. on the sidelines for the entirety of the third quarter.
Giveaways—takeaways? None given, two taken.
San Diego also committed eight penalties for 104 yards. You don't spot the Steelers two possessions and a football field and expect to escape with a win.
Pittsburgh will host the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game next week. While home-field advantage in the championship hasn't been kind to the Steelers in recent years, this team is playing at an extremely high level right now.
A win over the Ravens will give them a three-game sweep of Baltimore, and take Mike Tomlin to the Super Bowl in only his second year as a head coach.
You think the Titans-Ravens game was a slug-fest?
Strap it on tight and hunker down, folks. Next week is sure to be a bloodbath.