DENVER - The Pittsburgh Steelers proved again yesterday, there's no place like away from home, unless you're Jerome Bettis and that's where you're headed - home, to Detroit, to Super Bowl XL.
After losing four AFC title games in Pittsburgh over the previous 11 seasons, the Steelers left home to seek their fortune. They found it yesterday when they mauled the favored Denver Broncos 34-17 to win their second conference championship in the past 26 years.
They became the second team in history to win three consecutive playoff games on the road to land in the Super Bowl and can become the first to follow with a world championship.
"The toughest route they said to take was the scenic route, and that ended up being the best route for us," declared linebacker Joey Porter, who had a monster game. "We went to three different cities and shocked the world three different times.
"We weren't supposed to be in this situation, but we pulled it off. We pulled it off everywhere we went."
They have one more stop, in Detroit Feb. 5 against Seattle. It's a trip that helped lure Bettis, the fifth-leading rusher of all time and the heart of the Steelers the past decade, to play one more season, give it one more try to get to his first Super Bowl, to make his last game the one in his hometown.
He talked to his teammates Saturday night and left them with this:
"Get me home," the Bus said.
They punched that ticket early, stunning the Broncos by scoring on all four of their possessions in the first half for a 24-3 lead. Denver cut it to 10 midway through the fourth quarter, but the Steelers maintained their control and began celebrating when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger rolled left into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown that sealed it at 34-17.
"Once Ben scored, I think everyone cut loose a little bit because we were up by so much with so little left," guard Alan Faneca said. "Everybody knew it was over, and we were excited."
Bettis and Duce Staley dumped the traditional bucket of Gatorade on Bill Cowher's head, and the sopping wet coach gave a big hug to owner Dan Rooney on the sideline. It has been 10 years since they have made this trip, 26 since they won a Super Bowl.
"We need to go and win the game," Cowher said. "Nobody ever remembers the loser."
The Steelers became the first sixth seed in the playoffs to reach the Super Bowl, and they did it by knocking off Nos. 3-1-2 in that order. They did it again yesterday before thousands of Terrible Towel-waving Steelers fans who also showed up in droves in Cincinnati and Indianapolis the two previous weeks.
"I know the fans here are going crazy," receiver Antwaan Randle El said. "It must be really crazy at home. It is amazing, especially to have done it all on the road."
Once again, their young quarterback was the catalyst. The Steelers found it tough to run on Denver and managed only 90 yards on the ground, the first time this season they have won a game with fewer than 100 yards rushing. Roethlisberger and his receivers more than made up for that. He completed 21 of 29 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks for a 124.9 passer rating, his third striking performance in the playoffs.
"He's the catalyst of our offense," said receiver Hines Ward.
Jeff Reed kicked a 47-yard field goal to get things going, and the Steelers never stopped. Cedrick Wilson, operating most of the day against rookie cornerback Domonique Foxworth, scored on a 12-yard pass, one of five receptions for 92 yards. Bettis put the finishing touches on an 80-yard drive by running three yards for a touchdown. Ward completed the first-half blitzkrieg by catching a 17-yard touchdown pass.
The Broncos' only score of the first half came on Jason Elam's 23-yard field goal. They did score two touchdowns in the second half on Ashley Lelie's 30-yard reception from Jake Plummer and Mike Anderson's three-yard run.
But Reed kicked another field goal from 42 yards, and Roethlisberger stilled any overbeating Steelers hearts when he put it away with his four-yard run.
Larry Foote and Ike Taylor each intercepted Plummer, who was sacked three times. And Denver's ground game never really materialized with 97 yards.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Ed Bouchette is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.39.74001 -104.9923