By Jim Scott
DNAinfo Senior Editor
MANHATTAN — The Pittsburgh Steelers are all that stands in the way of the New York Jets making their first Super Bowl appearance in 42 years.
The Jets can't wait to erase four decades of disappointment as they take on the Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday night in the AFC Championship game.
New York is back in the conference championship game after losing to the Indianapolis Colts 30-17 last season.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger poses a different challenge for Rex Ryan's Jets, who've already dispatched Peyton Manning's Colts and Tom Brady's Patriots in the playoffs.
"Roethlisberger will beat you up," Ryan told the Associated Press. "I’ve never seen a guy take the hits he can take and also make people miss the way he does and be as accurate on the run.”
But New York managed to beat up Roethlisberger pretty good to earn a 22-17 win over the Steelers at Heinz Field on Dec. 19. The Jets defense had three sacks, forced two fumbles and recorded a safety against Pittsburgh's patchwork offensive line.
Defensive end Jason Taylor tackled Steelers' running back Mewelde Moore in the end zone for a safety late in the fourth quarter to seal the win for New York. The victory improved New York to 1-7 all-time against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Taylor is expected to play this week for the Jets despite suffering a concussion in the second half of New York's 28-21 upset win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium last Sunday.
Wide receiver Brad Smith will be back returning kicks for New York after sitting out the Patriots game with a groin injury, the AP reported. Smith has returned two kicks for touchdowns this season, including a 97-yard touchdown return against the Steelers in Week 15.
Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu sat out the Dec. 19 game against New York, but he'll be in the line up on Sunday despite a strained Achilles injury.
Pittsburgh earned their fourth trip to the conference game in seven years after rallying to beat the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 last Sunday. The Steelers are 7-7 all-time in AFC Championship games.
Sunday marks the fourth time the Jets have been in the conference championship game since Joe Namath led them to victory in Super Bowl III in 1969. New York lost to the Colts last year and the Denver Broncos in 1999 after leading at halftime in both games. The Jets failed to score in a 14-0 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the 1983 AFC Championship game.
"It’s been a long time for our fans and our franchise," defensive end Shawn Ellis told the AP. "So for us to be able to get to that point (Super Bowl) — and not just get there, but get there and win it — would be huge for us."
The Jets suffered a devastating 20-17 overtime loss to Pittsburgh at Heinz Field in the Divisional Playoff Round in 2005 in the only previous playoff meeting between the two squads. New York had two chances to win the game, but kicker Doug Brien missed a field goal at the end of regulation and another in overtime to seal the Jets' fate.
New York linebacker Bart Scott doesn't plan to let New York suffer the same fate in Pittsburgh.
Scott has been leading the Jets rallying cry this week after a colorful interview he gave to ESPN last week became an instant Internet hit. Scott said New York was being under rated by the press and his team "can't wait" to play the Steelers after upsetting the New England Patriots 28-21 last Sunday.
Scott is going to his third straight AFC Championship game after losing to the Steelers as a member of the Ravens in 2009 before joining the Jets last season.
"No team has really taken as much from me as the Pittsburgh Steelers," Scott told the Associated Press. "Ben Roethlisberger has taken a Super Bowl appearance from me just three years ago. ... I’ve yet to cross that threshold. Hoping that we can do that this week."
Millions of long-suffering Jets fans are hoping he can too.