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NFL: Steelers win AFC North after rallying past Ravens

/ 01:05 PM December 26, 2016
Baltimore Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

Baltimore Ravens fullback Kyle Juszczyk (44) dives into the end zone for a touchdown during the second half of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 25, 2016. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich)

PITTSBURGH — With the clock ticking and a season filled with promise evaporating, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger took the snap, turned to his left and put the AFC North title in the hands of Antonio Brown.

The star wide receiver caught the ball at the Baltimore 1 and waited for the hit he knew was coming. When it arrived from Ravens safety Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley, Brown ducked his head and stretched the ball across the goal line for a playoff-clinching touchdown that symbolized his team’s resilience.

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Reeling in November, and reeling early in the fourth quarter at home on Christmas against an archrival that’s more than had their number in recent years, the Steelers are heading to the playoffs, while Baltimore (8-7) was eliminated from contention. Brown’s lunging 4-yard score with 9 seconds left lifted them to a gripping 31-27 victory and a second division title in three years, delivering just as Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell predicted Brown would.

“Over there by the heaters before the final drive, he said ‘AB, you got to go down there and get the game winner,” Brown said.

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It was a play Brown’s teammates have seen many times, just never with so much on the line.

“That’s AB,” wide receiver Damarcus Ayers said. “He does it so much in practice, it doesn’t ‘wow’ you in a game. In this particular moment it’s like, ‘he’s done it again.'”

Brown finished with 10 receptions for 96 yards to join Hall of Famer Marvin Harrison as the only player with four straight 100-catch seasons. Roethlisberger shook off a pair of third-quarter interceptions to finish with 279 yards passing and three touchdowns. Bell ran for 122 yards and a score and hauled in another on an ad-libbed play by Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh rallied from a 10-point deficit to win its sixth straight.

The Steelers (10-5) will host during wild-card weekend on either Jan. 7 or 8 — heady territory considering they were 4-5 after falling to Dallas on Nov. 13. As New Year’s nears, they haven’t lost again.

The Ravens took the lead on Kyle Juszczyk’s 10-yard burst up the middle with 1:18 remaining. But Roethlisberger calmly led the Steelers 75 yards in 10 plays, the last 4 yards on a play that could live on in team history — depending on how far Pittsburgh’s momentum can carry it.

Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards, including a pretty 18-yard dart to Steve Smith that put Baltimore up 14-7 early in the third quarter. Smith ended up with seven receptions for 79 yards, but the Ravens crumbled late. Their defense put up little resistance as Roethlisberger clinically got his team in position to get back to the playoffs.

That destination seemed to be disappearing right in front of Pittsburgh’s eyes in the third quarter. Roethlisberger threw a pair of interceptions deep in Pittsburgh territory — both poorly thrown balls to heavily covered targets — that helped the Ravens take control.

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“It’s pretty special the way we won it,” Roethlisberger said. “Especially after feeling the way I felt at a certain point in that game and feeling like you let guys down and you blew it.”

Instead it’s the Ravens who will spend a long offseason wondering how their mastery over the Steelers — and a potential postseason berth — dissolved in the final 12 minutes. Baltimore will miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

“With everything you work for and you don’t reach your goal, so it’s. it’s just somber,” Weddle said. “It’s down. Give them credit. Ben got it rolling.”

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