The Pittsburgh Steelers won a trip to the Super Bowl in a game that was the hard-hitting, defensive battle that football fans expected, with Pittsburgh taking the game 23-14. But those hard hits took their toll, as Ravens' star Willis McGahee was knocked out and carried off the field on a backboard with three minutes left in the game after a devastating, though clean, hit from Ryan Clark. Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward was also knocked out of the game with a knee injury.
The defense was unquestionably the star of this game. The latest incarnation of the Steel Curtain held Ravens QB Joe Flacco to just 141 yards, and before he was injured, McGahee racked up just 60 yards. They also sacked Flacco twice, picked him off twice, and forced a fumble. Troy Polamalu brought back one of the interceptions for a touchdown, icing the Steelers' win.
The Pittsburgh offense kept the Ravens guessing, spreading around passes among their many players. Three receivers caught three receptions, and Santonio Holmes, who had two catches, scored the only offensive touchdown for the the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger passed for 255 yards. The running game was not as successful, as Willie Parker racked up just 47 yards.
But there is no question that injuries were one of the key plotlines of this game. The Steelers battled through injuries all season, with Parker and Roethlisberger both spending time on the disabled list. But today felt especially brutal, as the game was stopped nine times for injured players, including on the opening kickoff. Ward, a centerpiece of the Steelers' offense, twisted his knee on one catch. He tried to keep playing, but the pain was too much, and he left the game in the first quarter. Not long after McGahee was wheeled off the field, the Ravens reported that he was speaking and had considerable movement in his limbs, but the injury clearly affected the teams. Several players from both teams gathered around McGahee as he laid on the field, and some knelt in prayer.
The Steelers will enjoy the two week break before the Super Bowl in Tampa, where they will meet the Arizona Cardinals in an improbable match-up that will pit one of the least successful franchises of all time against one of the NFL's most storied programs.