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Green Bay Packers & Pittsburgh Steelers into Super Bowl

Super Bowl XLV: 6 February at Cowboys Stadium, Arlington, Texas - Watch live on BBC 1 and the BBC Sport website (UK only); listen live on 5 live and 5 live sports extra; full coverage details

'The Freezer' sends Bears packing

By Martin Gough

Green Bay hung on to beat Chicago and Pittsburgh overcame the New York Jets to set up a meeting in Super Bowl XLV in Texas on 6 February.

The Packers defence backed up a strong start by quarterback Aaron Rodgers in a 21-14 win in wintry Chicago.

Pittsburgh took a 24-0 lead and secured a third Super Bowl place in six years despite a late Jets fightback.

QB Mark Sanchez threw two touchdowns and Ben Roethlisberger conceded a safety as the Jets hit 19 late points.

The Jets' rally in the final 31 minutes was in contrast to most of the first half as they managed just a single rushing yard, compared to 135 for the hosts, for whom Rashard Mendenhall ran in the opening score.

Neil Reynolds
The Super Bowl semi-finals were filled with errors, questionable play-calling and nervy endings. But what they lacked in aesthetic beauty, they more than made up for in terms of drama and excitement.

Green Bay and Pittsburgh both took early leads then held on to through rollercoaster second halves in which they could easily have been overturned by the hard-charging Bears and Jets.

Ultimately, this might be the perfect Super Bowl match-up. The Packers have won a league-leading 12 NFL titles, while the Steelers have a record six wins in the Super Bowl era.

They are both passionately supported and the atmosphere should be electric at the home of the Dallas Cowboys, with more than 100,000 fans in attendance.

I fully expect the Packers and Steelers to provide a fitting conclusion to this most exciting of NFL seasons.

And I am sticking with my preseason prediction of the Packers to win it all, although there will be more twists and turns before they lift the famous Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Look out for Neil's NFL blog before the Super Bowl and listen out for him in the 5 live commentary team during the game

Pittsburgh went on to score two touchdowns in the space of 47 seconds to take a 24-0 lead, after Roethlisberger ran in then William Gay returned a Sanchez fumble.

But New York - who have not been to a Super Bowl for 41 years - came back with a field goal before half-time then two impressive second-half drives that quietened the initially rowdy Heinz Field crowd.

Receiver Santonio Holmes scored against the side with whom he won the NFL title two years ago.

Jerricho Cotchery also snagged a catch from Sanchez, at the end of a drive set up when Roethlisberger fumbled in his own endzone to concede a two-point safety, with the Steelers then forced to kick the ball back.

Earlier on Sunday, Chicago had staged a recovery of their own after going 14-0 down, in their 182nd match-up with Green Bay in a rivalry that goes back to 1921.

Third-choice Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie replaced injured Jay Cutler, throwing for two touchdowns, but was intercepted on the brink of a game-tying score.

Rookie cornerback Sam Shields made his second interception of the game with 43 seconds remaining and Chicago threatening from 29 yards out.

Rodgers, who threw for 244 yards, described reaching his first Super Bowl as "a dream come true".

He added: "You've got to give credit to our defence. I didn't play my best game.

"They had a good plan for us. They stopped us but we just had enough points."

Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger had a mixed night, but his late safety was not decisive

No National Football Conference sixth seed has ever made the Super Bowl before. The Packers have knocked off the first and second seeds in the NFC but must overcome an impressive Steelers side if they are to secure their 13th NFL title.

Rodgers was the star as Green Bay upset NFC top seeds Atlanta last week and he came out firing in wintry Chicago, completing four passes for 74 yards then running for the score in the opening drive.

Rookie running back James Starks, who was born in February 1986 - four weeks after the Bears last won an NFL title - ran in for the second touchdown, four minutes into the second quarter.

The Bears defence kept them in the game, twice intercepting Rodgers, who had thrown 119 post-season passes prior to this without being picked off.

With Cutler nursing a knee injury and replacement Todd Collins ineffective, Chicago went to Hanie in desperation.

The second-year player from Dallas led a 67-yard drive, setting up a Chester Taylor plunge to reinvigorate the Soldier Field crowd.

Later, he completed four successive passed in an 81-second drive that went the length of the field with Earl Bennett's catch-and-run touchdown to make it 21-14 with four minutes 43 seconds remaining.

But in between he fired an interception to Green Bay's BJ Raji - a monster 24 stone (153kg) nose tackle nicknamed "The Freezer" in a reference to Bears legend William "Refrigerator" Perry - who lumbered 18 yards to score with his first career pick and give Green Bay sufficient space.

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American Football on the BBC
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