PITTSBURGH -- Tough and mean, like the original Steel Curtain.
» Pittsburgh became the 12th team since 1970 to defeat an opponent three times in the same season.
» The Steelers are 8-0 all-time in playoff games vs. their own division.
» Baltimore's defense failed to record an interception for the first time in 11 all-time playoff appearances.
"It was a typical, hard-hitting, physical game. It's the way every Baltimore-Pittsburgh game is," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who missed most of the game with a knee injury.
"Sometimes guys get hit so hard, you don't know if they're going to get up. They say defense wins championships, well, we have the No. 1 defense. And they're the reason why we're really going to the Super Bowl."
Instead, Pittsburgh ended its home-field jinx in AFC championship games.
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"It's always that way," said Roethlisberger, who took a vicious shot to his shoulder in the first half. "This is always a 12-round slugfest. We always go at it. It's always violent from start to finish. I was ready when I took a knee at the end, you never know when somebody is going to fire off the ball."
Roethlisberger, picked off four times by New England in his rookie-year AFC title game, was a workmanlike 16-of-33 for 255 yards and, most importantly, no interceptions. If nothing else, it showed how much experience mattered in a game so important.
"They did it tonight the way we've done it all year," Tomlin said. "We've got a very humble group, a very selfless group."
"I mean, I'm glad we're playing in it, but the reason I'm here is because of my time with Pittsburgh," Whisenhunt said, "and I am very grateful for that."
Steelers owner Dan Rooney recalls them being nicknamed the Car-Pitts "because everybody walked all over us."
Nobody walks over these Steelers, a hard-hitting, tough-guy team with the NFL's best defense, at least statistically, in nearly 20 years. The unit is a worthy descendant of the Steel Curtain teams of the 1970s that virtually defined the way defense is supposed to be played.
Down 16-14, Flacco tried to rally the Ravens in the closing minutes. That's when Polamalu stepped in.
"I think Troy was probably just able to read my eyes," Flacco said. "I think he was just able to jump over there, read a little bit and he made a nice play."
Said Roethlisberger: "He went against the No. 1 defense in the world."
Still, Roethlisberger cautioned, "You can't make mistakes and win a big game."
The franchise, for all of the success it has enjoyed while playing in a record-tying 14 AFC title games, had lost an unprecedented four of its five most recent conference championship games in Pittsburgh. The run of losses almost made the Steelers glad to go on the road for the entire Super Bowl run-up to their last title.
The Ravens and Steelers own the NFL's nastiest ongoing rivalry. This game was expected to be low-scoring, physical and tense and it was, especially after Baltimore came back from an early 13-0 deficit to get to within 16-14 on McGahee's second short touchdown run of the game, a 1-yarder with 9:32 remaining.
"We were up 13-0 and then we're up 13-7 then we're up 13-whatever, it was like, 'Man, this game is going slow,' " the Steelers' Deshea Townsend said. "But then Troy steps up and makes a huge play and kind of seals the game for us."
Another such play -- Roethlisberger's 45-yard completion to Hines Ward on third-and-12 -- led to the first of Jeff Reed's field goals, a 34-yarder, in the first quarter.
On the Ravens' second possession, Flacco made the kind of mistake he didn't make in playoff wins over the Dolphins and top-seeded Titans, throwing the ball into the hands of nickel back Townsend for the rookie's first interception in 98 passes. Ward kept the ensuing Steelers drive going with an 11-yard catch on third-and-10, leading to Reed's 42-yard field goal, but hurt his knee while landing.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press