Steelers clock in

The Baltimore Sun

PITTSBURGH - Seventeen seconds told the story of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 35-24 victory over the San Diego Chargers.

That's precisely how long the Chargers had the ball in the decisive third quarter - just one snap of the football.

"You look up at the clock and after you come off the field there's seven minutes left in the quarter, and you kind of wonder where all the time went," said Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who directed an eight-minute drive and then, thanks to an interception by the Steelers' defense, got the ball right back. "But when you're out there, you know what you're doing."

That was clear in all aspects of yesterday's divisional playoff game at Heinz Field, as the Steelers emerged as the only victorious home team in a wild weekend of matchups. They host the Ravens on Sunday in the AFC championship game, one that matches bitter division rivals who have won Super Bowls this decade.

"It's the matchup everybody wants to see," said Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, whose team swept the Ravens in their regular-season series. "Both of the games came close, came down to the wire. I know they've got some guys bruised up, and so do we, so it's going to be an exciting game.

"To me, this is the Super Bowl."

The Steelers, who played the NFL's toughest schedule based on 2007 records, showed they're a team on a roll in all facets of the game. They ran for 165 yards and three touchdowns, threw for a touchdown and scored on a 67-yard punt return by Santonio Holmes.

What's more, their defense contained a red-hot San Diego team that had won five in a row and was coming off a dramatic overtime victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

The Pittsburgh victory derailed a would-be dream run by the Chargers, the first team in NFL history to recover from a 4-8 start to make the playoffs.

Although the Chargers scored on their fourth play from scrimmage - a 41-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Vincent Jackson - they trailed 14-10 at halftime and barely touched the ball in the third.

Pittsburgh scored one touchdown in the third quarter and another early in the fourth, building a 28-10 lead that had Terrible Towels swirling.

The Chargers briefly cut the deficit to 11, but their two fourth-quarter touchdowns were mostly cosmetic.

Rivers completed 21 of 35 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns. But he was sacked four times and threw an interception.

San Diego running back Darren Sproles, who had 328 all-purpose yards against the Colts, played in place of the injured LaDainian Tomlinson. Sproles gained only 15 yards on 11 carries but caught five passes for a game-high 91 yards, most of which came on a 62-yard touchdown in the final two minutes.

"There's one or two teams in this league that play defense like that," San Diego coach Norv Turner said. "Baltimore and Pittsburgh. And they play next week."

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