The Pittsburgh Steelers out-hit the Baltimore Ravens and outplayed them behind a steady-as-he-goes Ben Roethlisberger, marching into the Super Bowl behind a defence that brought back memories of their storied Steel Curtain.
Pittsburgh ended its AFC championship game home-field jinx by beating Baltimore 23-14 on Sunday and Troy Polamalu ended any chance the Ravens had for a comeback with a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown.
"It was a typical, hard-hitting, physical game. It's the way every Baltimore-Pittsburgh game is," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who missed most of the game with a knee injury. "Sometimes guys get hit so hard, you don't know if they're going to get up. They say defence wins championships, well, we have the No. 1 defence."
The Steelers will meet the Arizona Cardinals in the Super Bowl in two weeks in Tampa, Fla.
The coaching matchup is intriguing — Mike Tomlin vs. the Cardinals' Ken Whisenhunt, the offensive co-ordinator when the Steelers won the Super Bowl three seasons ago who went to Arizona only after being passed over for Pittsburgh's job.
Whisenhunt and his top assistant, Russ Grimm, left after the Steelers unexpectedly hired Tomlin, who has done something even Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher couldn't do by taking Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl in his second season.
Only the Steelers, San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys have won five Super Bowls, and Pittsburgh can be the first to win six. If the Steelers beat Arizona, the 36-year-old Tomlin would be the youngest coach to win an NFL championship.
"They did it tonight the way we've done it all year," Tomlin said. "We've got a very humble group, a very selfless group."
Pittsburgh harassed rookie Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco all game long. Normally unflappable, he looked lost at times and finished 13-for-30 for 141 yards and three costly interceptions.
Instead, Pittsburgh ended its home-field jinx in AFC championship games.
"It's always that way," said Roethlisberger, the Steelers quarterback who took a vicious shot to his shoulder in the first half. "This is always a 12-round slugfest. We always go at it. It's always violent from start to finish. I was ready when I took a knee at the end, you never know when somebody is going to fire off the ball."
Roethlisberger, picked off four times by New England in his rookie-year AFC title game, was a steady 16-of-33 for 255 yards for Pittsburgh, and most importantly, no interceptions, showing how much experience can matter in a game so big.
"Here's my advice to the Arizona Cardinals: Don't rush Ben Roethlisberger," the Ravens' Trevor Pryce said. "After that, he's a playground football player. That's what he is, and he's a damn good one."
Roethlisberger would laugh at that analogy — he said the Steelers' big play of the game, a 65-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes that made it 13-0, was an improvised play "just like on the playground."
After Polamalu's twisting, turning, zigzagging run sealed it with 4:39 to play, Steelers fans began singing "Pittsburgh's going to the Super Bowl!" — and the franchise is, for a seventh time.
This game was expected to be low-scoring, physical and tense, and it was, especially after Baltimore came back from an early 13-0 deficit to get to within 16-14 on McGahee's second short touchdown run of the game, a one-yarder with 9:32 remaining.