Rapid Reaction: Steelers 24, Jets 19

PITTSBURGH -- The New York Jets' season concluded Sunday night at Heinz Field with a 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

What it means: For the second straight season, the Jets reached the precipice and failed to advance to the Super Bowl. The Steelers amassed a 24-0 lead, and the Jets chipped away, but couldn't make up their deficit. The Steelers are going for the third time in six years.

Hero: Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall was a brahma bull. He ran 27 times for 121 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for more yards against New York than any other back since Rex Ryan took over the Jets in 2009. Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte rushed for 113 yards on Dec. 13.

Goats: The Jets' run offense and run defense didn't show up until it was too late. They were flat and flat-footed. The Jets had 1 yard rushing on five carries in the first half, while their defense missed countless tackles.

Admirable effort: Nobody can hang the loss on Mark Sanchez. He did just about all he could without a run game to help them avoid third-and-long situations. Sanchez played better than Ben Roethlisberger. Sanchez completed 20 of his 33 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions. Roethlisberger was 10-of-19 for 133 yards and no touchdowns with two interceptions.

Pivotal play: The last points the Steelers put on the board came on cornerback Ike Taylor's blindside strip sack of Sanchez near the end of the first half. Cornerback William Gay scooped it up and ran 19 yards into the end zone. The play proved to be the difference.

Bridesmaid revisited: Jets running back LaDainian Tomlinson (10 seasons), fullback Tony Richardson (16 seasons) and pass-rusher Jason Taylor (14 seasons) each failed once again to reach his first Super Bowl.

Injury of note: Even more impressive about Mendenhall's evening was that all but the first series was without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who went down with a left ankle injury and didn't return.

What's next: The Jets have an interesting offseason ahead. They have several free agents to address, including receivers Santonio Holmes, Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith, defensive end Shaun Ellis, linebacker David Harris and cornerback Antonio Cromartie.