PITTSBURGH (Ticker) -- Round Three was a knockout for the Pittsburgh Steelers in a playoff battle between bitter division rivals.
Forcing four turnovers and limiting the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens to 150 yards and seven first downs, the Steelers rolled to a 27-10 victory in the third and decisive matchup between the AFC Central teams.
The prize for Pittsburgh (14-3) is a berth in the AFC championship game for the fourth time in 10 years under coach Bill Cowher. The Steelers will host the New England Patriots on January 27 in the AFC title game.
Pittsburgh had outgained the Ravens (11-7) by the whopping total of 824 yards to 390 in the two regular-season meetings but managed just a split decision -- a 13-10 loss here on November 4 and a 26-21 win at Baltimore on December 16.
Ravens linebacker Jamie Sharper made headlines this week when he said his team "was looking for the Steelers in Round Three" in the playoffs.
Cowher inspired his team in the pregame address, screaming "they wanted us and now they got us."
And on Sunday, the Steelers sent the Ravens to the canvas in the first half, intimidating quarterback Elvis Grbac and building a 20-3 lead on a pair of one-yard runs by Amos Zereoue and two field goals by Kris Brown.
The Ravens did not get their first first down until tight end Shannon Sharpe caught a six-yard pass to midfield with 3:08 left in the first half and were just 1-of-12 on third-down conversions.
Signed to replace Super Bowl winning quarterback Trent Dilfer, Grbac wilted in the face of a strong pass rush. His first pass was a floater that was intercepted by cornerback Chad Scott, who returned it 19 yards to the Ravens' 43. On 3rd-and-6, linebacker Joey Porter hit Grbac as he threw the pass, resulting in an easy pickoff for Scott.
"That was huge because it set the tone," Steelers safety Lee Flowers said. "Elvis already had a problem with throwing interceptiions and that's a bad way to start a game."
Grbac was intercepted two more times by safety Brent Alexander and threw three other balls that were dropped by Steelers' defenders.
"It was a situation where we made too many mistakes to win the game. I made too many mistakes," said Grbac, who was 18-of-37 for 153 yards. "Pittsburgh played extremely well."
"We definitely had him (Grbac) rattled out there," Alexander said. "He was under a lot of pressure."
Baltimore's first six possessions resulted in two interceptions, three three-and-outs and a fumble -- a sure recipe for disaster. Baltimore closed the half with a 26-yard field goal by Matt Stover.
Jermaine Lewis gave the Ravens their only sign of hope with a postseason-record 88-yard punt return for a touchdown with 7:18 left in the third quarter.
The 6-5 Burress again effectively used his four-inch height advantage over cornerback Chris McAlister, catching five passes for 84 yards. Burress had eight receptions for a career-high 164 yards in last month's win at Baltimore.
Stewart completed 12-of-22 passes for 154 yards with an interception.
"It feels real good. I'm just glad we seized the moment," Stewart said. "Our defense played awesome as did special teams. We're going to need to continue to play like this if we're going to take it all the way."
The Steelers again played without leading rusher Jerome Bettis, who had an adverse reaction to an injection to the groin.
Bettis was in uniform and participated in pregame warmups but felt some soreness and went back in the locker room for treatment. However, an injection struck a nerve and Cowher decided to keep him out of the game.
"Jerome had an adverse reaction to medication prior to the game and that was unfortunate," Cowher said. "I called the team in after warmups and reminded them that Jerome didn't play in that game in Baltimore when we beat them."
Bettis' absence again did not hurt the Steelers, who rushed for 154 yards and controlled the ball for more than 40 minutes. Zereoue and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala combined for 93 yards on 36 carries.
"It's not Jerome Bettis' team. We all understand that," Steelers center Jeff Hartings said. "We went 5-1 without him. No disrespect to him, but this is a team game."
The Ravens quickly abandoned the ground game against the NFL's top rushing defense, gaining just 32 yards on 11 carries. Last week, Baltimore rushed for 226 yards against the Miami Dolphins in the wild card round.
"We're not Miami," Steelers defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen said. "They wanted to come here and play us and they got what they wanted."
The postseason loss was the first for Ravens coach Brian Billick after five wins, including Super Bowl XXXV in January 2001. The 27 points allowed Sunday were one more than Baltimore yielded in its first five playoff games.
"When one team has the ball for 40 minutes, you're not going to be that competitive," Billick said. "They dominated on defense, running the ball and passing. Pittsburgh has an outstanding team. Sometimes you get the bear, sometimes the bear gets you."
But a year after the Ravens set a record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season, it was the Steelers who ranked No. 1 in the NFL in defense this season and flexed their muscle again on Sunday.
After Scott's interception set the tone, Pittsburgh gained 37 yards on its first three offensive plays -- a 12-yard run around left end by Zereoue, an 11-yard run by Stewart on a quarterback draw and a 14-yard catch by Bobby Shaw.
But with a 3rd-and-goal at the Baltimore 2, Fuamatu-Ma'afala was tackled for a one-yard loss by linebacker Jamie Sharper and the Steelers settled for a 21-yard field goal by Brown 5:53 into the game.
On Baltimore's second possession, Grbac was sacked by linebacker Mike Jones on a third down play for a 10-yard loss.
The Steelers responded with a seven-play, 51-yard TD drive. Stewart connected with Burress and Hines Ward on passes of 17 and 20 yards, respectively, to key the drive.
"We started out real fast and they didn't have a way to contain us," Ward said.
On a 2nd-and-goal at the Baltimore 1, Zereoue bounced off Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis and dove into the end zone to give Pittsburgh a 10-0 lead with 3:49 left in the quarter.
Baltimore's defense came through with a big play when McAlister made a sliding interception at the Pittsburgh 25 and returned it 18 yards before he was tackled by Ward.
But the Ravens' offense failed to cash in when Grbac sailed a pass that was well wide of Sharpe and went into the hands of Alexander in the end zone for a touchback.
The Steelers drove 71 yards after the turnover, but were fortunate when receiver Troy Edwards fumbled after gaining 23 yards on a reverse and Ward recovered at the Baltimore 29. They were also helped by a 15-yard facemask penalty against linebacker Peter Boulware. But on a 3rd-and-5 at the Baltimore 9, Stewart was sacked for an eight-yard loss by defensive tackle Larry Webster and Brown was wide left on a 35-yard field goal. Brown missed 4-of-5 field goals in Pittsburgh's loss to the Steelers in November.
After another three and out for the Ravens, Edwards returned a punt 27 yards to the Baltimore 43. Burress caught a 13-yard pass and Zereoue raced around left end for a nine-yard gain before plunging into the end zone from the 1 with 5:33 left in the half.
The Steelers capitalized when Brown kicked a 46-yard field goal to increase the lead to 20-0 with 4:29 left in the half.
Baltimore finally put together an 11-play, 57-yard drive after managing a total of 18 yards on their first six possessions. Sharpe caught four passes for 48 yards, but the Ravens had to settle for a 26-yard field goal by Stover with 51 seconds left in the half.
Jermaine Lewis provided the lone highlight for Baltimore when fielded a punt at his 12, followed a wall of blockers to his right and easily outraced punter Josh Miller for the longest touchdown on a punt return in postseason history. He has six punt returns for touchdowns in his career and scored on an 84-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXV.
"He (Lewis) scared me the most and he did it again for them," Cowher said. "We worked hard on making sure Lewis wouldn't get a long return on us, but he does it to everybody."
But that would be all for the Steelers, who had the ball for just 1:38 in the third quarter.
Pittsburgh virtually sealed the game with a 12-play, 83-yard drive which took nearly six minutes. Burress capped it when he ran a slant between McAlister and safety Rod Woodson for his 32-yard touchdown.
It was the last NFL game for Ravens defensive tackle Tony Siragusa, who announced his retirement earlier this month.
"Pittsburgh played an outrageous game," said the 34-year-old Siragusa. "If they keep playing this way, I have no doubt they'll be world champions like we were last year. It's funny because I started my (college) career here as a Pitt Panther and I'll leave it here."