"You know, like I just told the football team, this is our bed, but I like how they’re laying in it."
- Mike Tomlin
For a second consecutive week the Pittsburgh Steelers seized what has been an elusive prize in 2009 – preserving a 4th quarter lead. The offense stepped up against Green Bay, so much so that Mike Tomlin gambled with an on-sides kick that the only path to victory was to ensure that his offense had the ball last.
Tomlin it seemed, his protests to the contrary, had given up on his defense.
Perhaps the pundits should pay more attention to Tomlin, because this time it was the defense that stepped up in the fourth quarter, albeit with a lot of help from a seemingly all too willing accomplice in the Baltimore Ravens.
When this chapter in the history of the Steelers-Raven rivalry is written, Sunday’s game will not do down as a classic. As Mike Tomlin says, “they don’t add style points,” which is fitting because this one was ugly.
Critics of the Steelers effort will argue that the Ravens outplayed the men in Black and Gold, only to let victory slip through their fingers via multiple acts of self destruction.
Perhaps that’s true. But the results of NFL football games come down to “not losing” as often as they come down to “winning.”
Victory goes not just to the team with the great player who steps up at the critical moment (think Troy Polamlu in the 2008 AFC Championship game), but to the team that graps the advantage when their opponents slip on a banana peel (think Kansas City and Oakland’s victories over Pittsburgh this year).
It so it was that the Steelers, unable to play dominant football, stepped up and made plays when Baltimore faltered.
With that sentiment in mind, Steel Curtain Rising salutes the players who made the Steelers 30th meeting with the Baltimore Ravens a victorious one.
James Farrior gave the Steelers their first interception in eons, ending Baltimore’s first series.
- Fairrior returned the pick to Baltimore's 8, but the offense only mustered a measily field goal, but Pittsburgh’s margin of victory was in fact three…
Ike Taylor joined a highly select squad of starting NFL cornerbacks who have more sacks than interceptions 15 games into the season.
- Taylor came up with his sack on a critical 3rd and 6 situation that forced the Ravens to punt.
Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace
On third and 12 from their own four, Ben Roethlisberger saw the off sides penalty on Terrell Suggs and took advantage of the free play by hitting rookie Mike Wallace in single coverage for a 45 yard gain.
- That gave the Steelers 1st and 10 at the 49 with 54 seconds left. Four passes later and Santonio Holmes and Roethlisberger hooked up to make it 20-10.
LaMarr Woodley and Ryan Mundy
Woodley atoned for an off sides penalty that nullified another Ike Taylor sack, by helping Ryan Mundy break up a would be touchdown pass to Todd Heap.
- The Ravens instead were forced to settle for a field goal – a significant accomplishment when one considers that their drive began at the Pittsburgh 37 after a Terrell Suggs nullified a pick six with a penalty.
The Entire Pass Defense
The Ravens dominated in every way in the third quarter, limiting Pittsburgh to just five offensive plays – including a punt and Roethlisberger’s interception.
Yet, it all began to fall apart before the third had ended, starting with a 15 yard touchdown run by Willis McGahee that Washington nullified with a holding penalty. Derrick Mason, after beating Desha Townshend, dropped an easy touchdown pass in the end zone.
After that, two Baltimore penalties pushed them back from the Pittsburgh 21 to the Pittsburgh 41.
- Along the way, the Steelers defended two passes and forced Baltimore to burn a time out, all of which transformed what was at least a sure field goal into a punt.
The drive was not going well for Baltimore. They’d started at their own 30, but after penalties negated some nice plays, they found themselves on their own 31 with third and 9.
- Ziggy Hood stepped up and registered his first NFL sack, he only caused a two yard loss, but that forced a punt, which in turn set up the next series.
Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Rashard Mendenhall, and Tyler Grishman
As drives go, this one was rather ho hum. But with 9 minutes left to play, Rashard Mendenhall ran twice for 11 yards, Santonio Holmes caught one ball for 24 yards, and Tyler Grishman caught his first NFL pass for 14 yards to convert a 3rd and 3.
- The Steelers drive sputtered at the 20, but Jeff Reed’s Field Goal made it 23-20
LaMarr Woodley and Ziggy Hood
The Steelers had no sooner secured the lead with just over five minutes left to play and their old Achilles heel struck again in the form of a 48 yard kickoff return that only ended because Jeff Reed found it in him to push the returner out of bounds.
But unlike previous weeks, the Steelers defense was up to the challenge.
The Ravens made one first down, but then LaMarr Woodley took over. On first down, James Farrior stopped Ron McLain for a one yard gain. Then Woodley and Ryan Mundy limited Ray Rice to two yards.
- LaMarr Woodley sacked Joe Flacco on 3rd and 7, and then came up big on 4th and 10 with a strip sack that Ziggy Hood recovered for Pittsburgh.
Steelers Play in Prose, Not Poetry
The record will of course reflect that the Steelers were less than stellar in their efforts to run out the clock, and that the Ravens would have gotten the ball back had they not nullified an interception with another penalty (in Ben's defense, he says he saw the penalty flag against Baltimore and so he tried to make the throw anyway.)
But those are the breaks.
The lore masters of Steelers Nation would like nothing more than to spin a narrative that sees the Steelers snap their 5 game losing streak by stringing together dramatic victory after dramatic victory.
Alas, Pittsburgh’s story is more pedestrian.
- The Steelers gave up their first 100 yard rusher in 32 games
- They failed again to establish rhythm in their own running game
- The offensive line’s protection of Ben was leaky, at best
Despite that, the Steelers took advantage of the opportunites Baltimore gave them, and kept their playoff hopes alive for another week.
Given how bleak things looked after the loss to Cleveland, still having a pulse is plenty reason to be proud.