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Steelers secure 1st-round bye, home field in playoffs

SHARE Steelers secure 1st-round bye, home field in playoffs
Steeler backup QB Tommy Maddox completes 4th quarter pass.

Steeler backup QB Tommy Maddox completes 4th quarter pass.

Tom E. Puskar, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH — Just like their previous game, the Ravens put a Steelers quarterback out with an injury. They accomplished little else on a day the Steelers made certain they won't leave Pittsburgh until the Super Bowl if they keep winning.

Still-unbeaten Ben Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes in a run-heavy offense before being pulled from a 20-7 Steelers victory Sunday with an unspecified rib injury caused by a blindside hit on a scoring pass.

Pittsburgh (14-1) wrapped up home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs and a first-round bye. But a team already playing without six injured regulars sustained two more injuries, as Roethlisberger and cornerback Deshea Townsend (broken right hand) left during the fourth quarter.

"We have a lot of guys hurt right now, but now we control our own destiny," wide receiver Hines Ward said. "Now teams are going to have to come in and deal with the weather, the field and our fans. You couldn't ask for a better situation."

Except to be healthier.

Roethlisberger was assisted off the field, a large clump of grass sticking out of the left side of his face mask, after being leveled by Terrell Suggs on a 2-yard touchdown pass to Jerame Tuman. Suggs was penalized for roughing the passer, but the play did not touch off any incidents.

Roethlisberger returned to complete throws of 26 yards to Plaxico Burress and 9 to Jerome Bettis on Pittsburgh's next drive early in the fourth quarter. But he was replaced by Tommy Maddox midway through the drive because, coach Bill Cowher said, "he grimaced every time he threw it."

Roethlisberger's injury was the lone worrisome note for the Steelers as they ran their franchise-record winning streak to 13 games and all but eliminated the Ravens (8-7) from playoff contention.

"You don't like to lose, especially in this environment, in what pretty much is a playoff game for us," Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller said.

Roethlisberger (14 of 19, 211 yards, one interception) probably won't play Jan. 2 in Buffalo, but none of his teammates seemed overly concerned. Roethlisberger did not speak to reporters.

"Ben's a tough guy, and I'm not worried at all about Ben," Bettis said. "He wanted to keep going. He's a competitor."

Coincidentally, Roethlisberger became Pittsburgh's starter when Maddox hurt his right elbow Sept. 19 against the Ravens. Maddox did not play again until Sunday.

Bettis ran for 117 yards in his sixth 100-yard game this season — all in place of Duce Staley (hamstring), who sat out for the sixth time in eight games. Bettis also moved past Eric Dickerson on the NFL career rushing list with 13,294 yards to fourth on the career rushing list and closed to within 60 yards of his ninth 1,000-yard season.

"To go past Eric Dickerson is amazing, considering my role (as a backup) when the season started," Bettis said.

Pittsburgh is assured of matching the best record in franchise history (14-2 in 1978) even if it loses at Buffalo.

"They've been on a roll and it doesn't seem like they're stopping," Ravens safety Ed Reed said. "But I still think we're a better team than we displayed."

Burress returned from a four-week layoff with a sore hamstring and made an immediate impact with three catches for 97 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger as Pittsburgh drove 80 yards in five plays on its opening possession.

Three times the Ravens advanced to at least the Pittsburgh 35 without scoring, with Jamal Lewis held to 26 yards on 14 carries. The Ravens scored only eight touchdowns while going 3-5 on the road.

Baltimore briefly tied it at 7 on Jamal Lewis' 5-yard TD run, but Joey Porter's interception of Boller's tipped pass led to Jeff Reed's 23-yard field goal that made it 10-7.

The Steelers took control by starting the second half with a 14-play, 71-yard drive that featured 12 consecutive runs ahead of Tuman's touchdown catch.