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costanza2k1
12-15-2008, 12:37 AM
BALTIMORE -- After exuding so much energy during the game and addressing his team afterward, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin had nothing left for the media.

Tomlin stepped to the podium with a gamut of emotions following Pittsburgh's 13-9, come-from-behind win over the Ravens that clinched the AFC North title and a first-round bye in the playoffs. The second-year coach was proud, fatigued, elated and mentally drained all at the same time.

"Ridiculously tough football game," a weary and blunt Tomlin described it.

Many of Tomlin's players shared the same sentiment. There were "2008 AFC North champion" T-shirts and hats distributed immediately after the game, but no one was in the mood to celebrate.

There were no champagne bottles flowing or high-fives coming from the visitors locker room at M&T Bank Stadium. For the most part, the clothes were used to cover up the many bruises the Steelers attained at the hands of a very tough Ravens (9-5) team.

But mental toughness once again carried the Steelers (11-3). Pittsburgh won the fourth quarter 10-0 and scored on a Santonio Holmes' 4-yard touchdown reception with 43 seconds remaining to seal the victory.

Despite coming into the season with the NFL's toughest strength of schedule, Pittsburgh has handled it masterfully by improving to 6-1 on the road and 17-6 in December games since 2004.

"I think [our games] are probably 90 percent mental and maybe 10 percent physical," Holmes said. "Right now I think our minds are more into this game and our hearts are more into this game than anything."

Here is what else we learned in this high-profile AFC North matchup:

'Big Ben' is big time

A lot can be learned from watching the two games this season between these divisional rivals. First, the Ravens are almost there, and, second, big-time quarterback play from Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is what currently sets the Steelers apart.

Both teams have tremendous defenses that were on display Sunday, and the two victories have been decided by a combined total of seven points. But Roethlisberger led the Steelers to an overtime drive that won the first meeting and Sunday he made one of the signature drives of his career to complete the season sweep.

With a division title and a first-round bye at stake, Roethlisberger completed 7 of 11 passes for 89 yards during Pittsburgh's 92-yard, game-winning drive. His final throw was on a broken play that resulted in Roethlisberger scrambling and finding Holmes, who put two feet down and barely got the ball into the end zone.

"I told [defensive lineman] Travis [Kirschke], 'I'd rather go 50 yards than 92 yards if you would've recovered that fumble,'" Roethlisberger said of Baltimore's previous stalled offensive series. "He wanted to add to my legacy, he said. I appreciate that."

Baltimore matched Pittsburgh hit for hit, run for run. But when it came time to make a big throw or produce a game-winning drive, the seasoned Roethlisberger was prepared to produce in a hostile environment while rookie signal-caller Joe Flacco struggled to duplicate those heroics.

Flacco finished 11-of-28 passing with 115 yards, two interceptions and a 22.2 passer rating. Roethlisberger was 22-of-40 for 246 yards, one touchdown and an 81.9 passer rating.

"When rubber meets the road, we have to deliver plays," Tomlin said. "Our quarterback wants to be the man to deliver them."

New AFC favorite?

Should Pittsburgh be considered the new favorite in the AFC over the Tennessee Titans (12-2)? It's a valid question that deserves to be brought up after Week 15.

The Steelers are certainly more battle-tested and have won five in a row. Meanwhile, the Titans have lost two of their last four games, which included a home loss to the New York Jets (9-5) and a road defeat Sunday to the Houston Texans (7-7).

Luckily, no one has to wait long to get an answer.

With home-field advantage on the line, the Steelers and Titans will face off in Week 16 in arguably the biggest NFL game of the 2008 season.

"We're the No. 2 seed now, and we'd like to get that No. 1 seed," Steelers linebacker James Farrior said. "We just want to keep winning because we have some other things we'd like to do this season."