“Injuries will not be an excuse. The Standard of Expectation Remains the Same.” – Mike Tomlin
The Steelers lost Dan Sepulveda. They lost Flozell Adams. They lost Health Miller. The Baltimore Ravens broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.
But they never broke the Steelers resolve.
Anyone tempted to say “NFL division rivalries are not what they used to be” must watch this game.
Call it what you will: A Steelers-Ravens Street Fight; A Pittsburgh-Baltimore Bar Room Brawl. Either metaphor applies.
Injuries felled players on both sides, yet the game did not hinge on a battle of attrition. Like previous contests, the outcome remained in doubt until the final minute, yet the game did not turn on a test of wills.
Instead, the contest came down to playmaking ability, and Pittsburgh prevailed.
Team Effort Paves Path for Playmakers
To whom do you award the game ball for last night? Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, Shaun Suisham, or perhaps Troy Polamalu? You could easily double the choices presented above (vote please) for the game ball award and still snub someone on the Steelers.
But if Steelers Nation will remember the heroic efforts of a few key players in the victory over the Ravens, we must not lose sight of the reality that this victory represented a team effort.
- Despite giving up a few long balls, the Steelers defense forced no fewer than six 3 and outs
- Holding a 7-3 lead, the Ravens marched down to the Steelers six – but the defense held, forcing a field goal
Both the Steelers and the Ravens posted nearly identical 3rd down conversion rates, rushing averages, passing totals, and each committed a turnover
- Yet the Steelers won the time of possession battle, to the tune of 34:08 to 25:52, much of that swing occurring on the Steelers 9 minute 27 second drive that ended with field goal.
Against this backdrop, the Steelers were losing starters, forcing their kicker to double as a punter, and shuffling men and out of their line up. One man goes down, another steps in.
Nonetheless, with just over three minutes left to play the Ravens stood at the Steelers 43 and Ray Rice had just run for 5 yards on first down. A number of commentators described the situation as “looking bleak” – an opinion not shared in the Steelers huddle.
The fireworks were only about to start…
Two First Round Picks and an Undrafted Free Agent Rookie
“Chicago has one Michael Jordan, who with the game on the line, takes the ball in his hands and he knows can score… Well, we had 4-5 guys who felt they could do that on any given play.” - Lynn Swann on “The Steelers of the ‘70s In Their Own Words”
Yes, Steel Curtain Rising showcased that quote after the AFC Championship game, and we will showcase it again when appropriate.
Another way of framing the issue is with a question:
- What do USC, Miami of Ohio, and Bowie State University have in common?
They produce play makers who cause game-changing events for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watch for yourself.
For the second week in a row, Troy Polamalu stepped up and altered the course of the game with everything on the line.
This is no accident. A phenomenal athlete, Troy Polamalu's training and prepreation routines are legendary. He studies film like no one else. But beyond that, Troy Polamalu has that intangible on the field presence, that instinct, that draws him to the ball during critical situations.
But Polamalu had help.
The Steelers had stalled badly in the Red Zone once before, and they got nowhere on first down. On second down Roethlisberger did what only Roethlisberger can do, with defenders clinging to him he managed to wiggle and pivot just enough to toss the ball away, saving a sack.
The next play found Isaac Redman in the huddle. He apparently was not supposed to be there. Roethlisberger had to call out Redman's assignment at the line of scrimmage.
Redman got the message. More importantly, the 2009 training camp sensation lived true to his name, “Redzone Redman” breaking not one, but two tackles in route to the end zone.
Redman remains a work in progress, but on this night the undrafted rookie was the equal of the two ballyhooed first round draft day darlings.
The Road from Here
The victory over the Ravens puts the Steelers in the drivers seat in the AFC North race. As with many victories, this one was costly.
Logic dictates that the Steelers cannot continue to stay a step ahead of the toll that injuries are taking on this team.
But the same logic says the Steelers should have already capitulated to attrition. It has not happened because this group of Pittsburgh Steelers concedes nothing to adversity.