PITTSBURGH -- Here are some early thoughts on the Steelers' victory against the Jets in Sunday's AFC Championship Game.
What it means: With a win against the Jets, the Steelers advanced to their second Super Bowl appearance in three seasons. Pittsburgh will face the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 in Arlington, Texas. The Steelers won the previous meeting between these two teams in a 37-36 thriller in 2009 when Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace caught the game-winning touchdown as time expired. The Steelers will bring a lot of Super Bowl experience to Cowboys Stadium. Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin and most of the same core remains from the championship team two years ago. Pittsburgh also improved to 3-0 in AFC title games since 2005.
What I liked: Pittsburgh played perhaps its best first half of football to take a 24-3 lead at intermission. The Steelers' offense and defense both got off to a fast start. Tailback Rashard Mendenhall had one of his best games of the season, rushing for 121 yards and a touchdown. He had 95 yards rushing in the first half, kept his legs going and broke a lot of tackles. Pittsburgh’s run defense also was stout. The Jets gained just 1 rushing yard in the first half and 70 total. That put New York in a lot of third-and-long situations that led to bad plays and punts. Pittsburgh cornerback William Gay scored a defensive touchdown after scooping up a fumble by Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and returning it 19 yards. Steelers rookie receiver Antonio Brown caught a big pass late in the fourth quarter for the second straight game, sealing the win with a catch on third down.
What I didn't like: Pittsburgh had the Jets down big at halftime. But the Steelers took the foot off the pedal in the third and fourth quarters, allowing the Jets back in the game. Jets receivers Santonio Holmes and Jerricho Cotchery caught touchdowns in the third and fourth quarters, respectively. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger also fumbled a snap in the fourth that led to a safety, as New York scored 16 unanswered points. Pittsburgh made plenty of errors in the second half, but the Jets deserve a lot of credit for not going away and making this a very competitive game.
What's next: With a two-week break between the conference title game and the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh will spend the first week preparing in Pittsburgh and the second week of preparation in Arlington, Texas, before the big game. The AFC North blog will be there every step of the way with Super Bowl XLV coverage of the Steelers.