The Pittsburgh Steelers are headed to Super Bowl XLV, but whether center Maurkice Pouncey will be available to play against the NFC Champion Green Bay Packers is uncertain after the standout rookie left in the first quarter of the AFC Championship Game with an ankle injury and did not return.
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said after the 24-19 victory over the New York Jets that Pouncey suffered an ankle sprain.
Pouncey had to be helped off the field after Jets linebacker Bryan Thomas got pushed back into him. He rolled over the back of Pouncey's leg on a 7-yard pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Hines Ward to the New York 1. Pouncey put no weight on the ankle as he hopped off the field with the aid of two trainers. He was later carted to the locker room where CBS cameras showed Pouncey walking with the aid of crutches.
Pouncey was replaced by Doug Legursky, and running back Rashard Mendenhall scored on the next play to give Pittsburgh a 7-0 lead.
Pouncey has started every game for the Steelers this season, and Legursky's rust was evident at times. After the Steelers mounted a goalline stand in the fourth quarter, they found themselves backed up at their own 1-yard line. On first down, the Steelers called a quarterback sneak, but Ben Roethlisberger and Legursky mishandled the snap and Roethlisberger was forced to fall on the ball in the end zone for a safety.
If the Steelers are forced to play without Pouncey it would be the latest blow to a patchwork offensive line. Jonathan Scott has started at left tackle since mid November for regular starter Max Starks, who was placed on injured reserve. Right guard Willie Colon, the team's starter since 2007, was placed on injured reserve before the season began. Second-year player Ramon Foster and veteran Trai Essex have combined to fill in. Through it all, the Steelers allowed 32 sacks on quarterback Roethlisberger in the regular season.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.