Pittsburgh There is a home-field advantage in the NFL playoffs after all, and it belongs to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Now they’ve got to prove it means something against the team they despise like no other, and in the game they lose at home like no one else.
The Steelers, owners of the NFL’s best home-field record since the 1970 NFL merger, shook off a 7-0 deficit barely two minutes into the game, controlled pint-sized playmaker Darren Sproles and returned some normalcy to the postseason by beating the San Diego Chargers, 35-24, in an AFC divisional game Sunday.
With a now-healthy Willie Parker running for 146 yards and two touchdowns, Ben Roethlisberger ignoring his late-season concussion to throw for a score and lead an efficient offense, the Steelers did what the favored Titans, Panthers and Giants couldn’t do by winning at home. It was the first time since 1971 that three road teams won during a single playoff weekend, and the Steelers made certain that road teams didn’t go 4-for-4.
“We talked about that, all the home teams — the No. 1 and 2 seeds — weren’t playing as well,” said Santonio Holmes, who got Pittsburgh going with a 67-yard punt return touchdown in the first quarter. “But we knew the road to the Super Bowl can run through Pittsburgh when we saw Baltimore won (at Tennessee). It was time to turn it on.”
This will be the Steelers’ seventh AFC title game, and sixth in Pittsburgh, in 15 seasons. They were 2-4 in the previous six, with an unprecedented four losses in five tries at home during the 1994-2004 seasons.
The Steelers had the worst offense of any playoff team coming in, only to put up 35 points to support the NFL’s top-ranked defense. Now, it’s time for Ravens vs. Steelers Part III next Sunday — the third and most intriguing matchup this season between the can’t-stand-each other AFC North rivals.
“What else would you expect, us and the Ravens,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “It would be big if it was a scrimmage. This is for the AFC championship.”
Pittsburgh won the earlier two games, 23-20 in overtime in Pittsburgh — when the Ravens supposedly put bounties on several Steelers players — and 13-9 during the Dec. 14 rematch in Baltimore that secured the divisional title.
“We have a tough, tough, tough team coming in here,” Brett Keisel said.
The Ravens-Steelers games were two of the NFL’s most physical this season, with injuries all around, and playing to go to the Super Bowl will only ratchet up the intensity, physicality and, no doubt, the dislike.
There was much to like for the Steelers in this one as they made certain that the Chargers’ stars from their 23-17 wild-card upset of the Colts didn’t repeat their performances and allow San Diego to become the first team to go .500 during the season and then win twice in the postseason.