PITTSBURGH - So how did you like that ride? The first half was nothing short of awful, to the point that people were considering turning their Terrible Towels into car washing rags.
It was obvious the glory days were over and there had been a power shift in the AFC North, the old Steelers giving way to a hungry Baltimore Ravens team that had no problem playing in a hostile environment.
Then came halftime and an identity change as profound as Clark Kent emerging from the phone booth as Superman.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
James Harrison sacks Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco during third-quarter action Saturday.
The Steelers found their game, kicked into gear and beat the Ravens, 31-24, to advance to Sunday's AFC Championship game for the fourth time in seven years.
This much is known about that game: It will have a 6:30 kickoff.
The location depends on who wins today's game between the New York Jets and Patriots in New England.
As nasty as the hard-hitting, trash-talking Ravens were in the first half, the Steelers knew this fundamental truth:
The 21-7 lead the Ravens had built was mostly built by the Steelers' own ineptitude.
"We basically gave them two touchdowns," tight end Heath Miller said.
So they tightened things up, put an end to that charity and rattled quarterback Joe Flacco and his receivers into mistakes they had no business making.
Based on anecdotal evidence that filtered out afterward, coach Mike Tomlin wasn't angry with his team at halftime as much as he was disgusted.
They weren't playing Steelers football.
'I told them if we don't turn the ball over, we're capable of winning the game," Tomlin said. "We turned it over, and that's why it was 21-7."
And that was the truth. No doubt Baltimore made some plays, but the game doesn't get away from the Steelers if Ben Roethlisberger and Rashard Mendenhall don't fumble.
(By the way, an image of Roethlisberger's fumble that will linger is of Ramon Foster standing there with his hands on his hips, his back turned to the live ball lying on the turf a few feet behind him. After the game, Foster said he thought the play had been an incomplete pass).
The Steelers regrouped and came back to win the game.
If Tomlin was pleased, he wasn't surprised, praising his team and quarterbacks's shared "no-blink mentality."
That week's worth of trash talk that came from Baltimore?
Print it all out, and then haul it to the curb. It really is trash.
Doesn't mean a thing if you can't back it up, and the Ravens couldn't. Flacco fell apart, and his receivers, Anquan Boldin and T. J. Housmandzadah, both dropped easily-catchable passes at crucial times.
The only "clutch" in the Ravens' game was the feeling that their throats got tight when it mattered most.
The Steelers could be headed for a big disappointment this Sunday. The Patriots are clearly the class of NFL this year, and playing them on the road is a huge task.
But maybe the Jets can beat them today.
Or maybe the Steelers can beat them on Sunday.
You wouldn't think either scenario is likely, but after Saturday's sudden reversal of fortune, who knows?
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.