Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith (89) celebrates with quarterback Joe Flacco after a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Don Wright
December 25, 2016

PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger doesn't want to get ahead of himself. The stakes, after all, were far different. Still, the similarities were kind of striking.

Down by three. Time running out. A season hanging in the balance. The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback has been there before.

Nearly eight years ago his fling to the corner of the end zone to Santonio Holmes won the franchise its sixth Super Bowl. While Antonio Brown's deft extension over the goal line with 9 seconds left on Sunday night against Baltimore didn't deliver a championship, it assured the surging Steelers of a shot at one.

Brown's 106th - and by far his most important - catch of the season lifted Pittsburgh to a 31-27 victory and its second AFC North title in three years. Roethlisberger nodded when asked if it stirred any memories of Holmes' famous toe drag , though he was simply far more relieved to be in the position in the first place. He threw a pair of third-quarter interceptions that put the Steelers in a 10-point hole that put their playoff chances in serious jeopardy before leading Pittsburgh (10-5) to touchdowns on its final three drives.

''It's pretty special the way we won it,'' Roethlisberger said. ''Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in the game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it. So to come back and win it is pretty special.''

The Steelers have won six straight heading into next week's regular-season finale against Cleveland (1-14), a game Roethlisberger would be OK with skipping now that there's little at stake so that Pittsburgh's regulars can get healthy. Pittsburgh is settled in as the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

It's a luxury Pittsburgh can afford only after coming alive over the final 15 minutes. The Steelers managed all of 201 yards through the first three quarters, but gained 240 in the fourth thanks to bold-faced names and some not-so-bold-faced ones, too.

Brown finished with 10 receptions for 96 yards and Le'Veon Bell picked up 137 total yards and two touchdowns. Rookie wide receiver Demarcus Ayers caught the first pass of his career and drew a 35-yard pass interference penalty in the fourth quarter that gave the Steelers a needed jolt.

''He goes every day as the (scout) team and busts his butt and gets hit and just doesn't stop,'' Roethlisberger said of Ayers. So it's neat to see that pay off for a guy like that.''

Some other takeaways as the Steelers won their fifth title under coach Mike Tomlin, while the Ravens (8-7) saw their chances vanish of a return to the postseason after missing out in 2015.

CALLED SHOT: Bell actually predicted Brown would play the role of hero before the Steelers took the ball for the last time.

''Over there by the heaters before the final drive, he said, `AB, you got to go down there and get the game winner,''' Brown said.

That Brown came through wasn't surprising to Bell. The way Brown did it is another matter.

''I don't think there's a lot of receivers that are really willing to do that,'' Bell said. ''He caught the ball, stopped short and had the presence of mind to reach the ball over the goal line. It looks easy when he does it, but that's really a difficult play.''

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco estimated the Ravens left ''five to 10'' points on the field. He's not wrong.

Their typically automatic field goal unit botched Justin Tucker's 45-yard attempt in the second quarter when long snapper Morgan Cox's snap sailed high and holder Sam Koch couldn't handle it. Baltimore also ended up settling for a field goal early in the fourth quarter when Steelers rookie Sean Davis smacked the ball out of tight end Darren Waller's hands in the end zone. If Waller holds on, the Ravens go up two touchdowns instead of just 20-10.

RIVALRY RENEWED: Pittsburgh's victory ended a four-game losing streak to the Ravens. It's also the first time the Steelers have knocked the Ravens out of postseason contention during linebacker Terrell Suggs' long career.

''They have beat us in some big games,'' said Suggs, who vowed to return for a 15th season in 2017. ''They beat us in the AFC championship and beat us in the playoffs. But to knock us off to go to the next round, I don't think that ever happened. But I'm going to live with it.''

WAITING GAME?: Ravens coach John Harbaugh brushed aside the notion fullback Kyle Juszczyk should have not scored so quickly on his 10-yard burst up the middle that put Baltimore up 27-24 with 1:18 to go.

''If you're saying we should have sat on the ball and then kept our fingers cross to score later, I would say that's not a strategy I've seen attempted too often,'' Harbaugh said. ''They had a lot of time left on the clock and it's our job to get them stopped. That's what we didn't get done.''

---

For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

You May Like