PITTSBURGH -- The genius of the Steelers defense is in both its speed and its sleight of hand, a devastating combination that so often makes quarterbacks crumble. Last week, it was a harried Joe Flacco, losing a fumble on one drive and throwing an interception on another as Pittsburgh advanced to the AFC title game. On Sunday night in the second quarter of Pittsburgh's 24-19 victory over the Jets for a berth in the Super Bowl, it was Mark Sanchez's turn to buckle.
With 1:23 left in the first half and facing a third-and-17 from his own 26, Sanchez lined up in the shotgun formation, with Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Taylor creeping toward the line of scrimmage on Sanchez's blind side. When Sanchez took the snap and pivoted slightly to his right, Taylor charged across the line and crashed into Sanchez -- just as he tried to deliver a pass. The ball popped out, Steelers cornerback William Gay scooped it up and ran for a touchdown, giving the Pittsburgh defense its latest in a season of signature big plays.
"It was all Ike," said Gay, whose touchdown gave the Steelers a 24-0 lead and their final points of the night. "The pressure from the defensive line and the coverage of the back side [made Sanchez] hold the ball. Ike did a good job not only trying to get the sack, but knocking the ball out."
Said linebacker LaMarr Woodley: "When you score on defense, you usually come out on top."
In facing the Packers and QB Aaron Rodgers in Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers will be presented with their toughest task to date. Last season, when the teams met at Heinz Field, Rodgers led the Packers on three touchdown drives in the fourth quarter, only to see Ben Roethlisberger toss a last-gasp TD pass to receiver Mike Wallace with no time left, vaulting Pittsburgh to a thrilling 37-36 victory.
Still, the memory of Rodgers remains fresh for the Steelers.
"I wish we were playing them in the snow, sleet, rain," Pittsburgh free safety Ryan Clark said of the upcoming Super Bowl meeting. "And I wish Aaron Rodgers forgot to catch the bus to the game and didn't go. [The game is] going to be inside, and they are going to be throwing that ball all around. Two very good defenses, two amazing quarterbacks, two storied franchises in the NFL."
How the Steelers plan to attack Rodgers will be one of many Super Bowl storylines -- the league's most feared defense standing across the line from the league's hottest quarterback. "This is the team, going into the playoffs, nobody wanted to face them," Clark said of the Packers. "[That's] why Chicago played their starters all game [in Week 17] because they knew [Green Bay] wasn't a team you wanted to play in the playoffs."
To hoist a seventh Lombardi Trophy, the Steelers will have to get past the team nobody wanted to face and the quarterback that maybe only one defense can stop.
"We have a saying around here that Mike Tomlin has been preaching since he got here," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior. "A standard is a standard. I think he has everybody believing that."