With 2 minutes and 40 seconds left in the game, and the Pittsburgh Steelers defense stopping the Baltimore Ravens offense on 4th and goal, I thought the Steelers would leave Heinz Field 4-0.
All it took was for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to throw an 18-yard touchdown pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh (ugh, Steelers fans are tired of this guy) with 32 seconds left.
It's a shame that the team couldn't end the Ben Roethlisberger suspension era with a perfect record. But with two missed field goals by Jeff Reed and 11 penalties for 88 yards, the game was theirs to lose. One of the biggest penalties came at the end of the game when holding was called against Keyaron Fox as the Steelers punted the ball away in their own endzone, giving the Ravens 10 precious yards so that Flacco could clinch that game-winning TD.
During the fourth quarter, Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (who ran for 79 yards with 25 carries) scored a 7-yard touchdown, putting the Steelers in the lead 14-10. This was a result of a beautiful 13-play, 93-yard drive. When the Ravens got back possession, they were able to take the ball all the way to the 2-yard line, but the Steelers stopped them on 4th and goal.
It seemed that the defense lost its steam when they had to go back on the field after the offense could do nothing but edge closer and closer to their own endzone with penalties (two false starts) and ineffective runs. A couple of first downs and the game would've been won.
The defense also must have been disheartened when no points were scored off of the turnovers they created. This was due to Jeff Reed's two missed field goals. Ravens running back Willis McGahee's fumbled at the Ravens 27, but Reed hit the right upright on his 49-yard field goal attempt. Flacco was also intercepted by Ike Taylor at the Ravens 33, but again Reed missed a 45-yard attempt. Reed only had 4 misses last season. After the fourth game of the season, he's racked up 4 already. For a kicker who's usually so reliable, this is not a good sign.
So now the Ravens and Steelers are tied in the AFC North. It's only the second time the Ravens have beat the Steelers at home in 11 games.
Flacco was able to step up with fourth-string Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch couldn't. Flacco completed 24 of 37 for 256 yards and an interception. Batch, who played brilliantly against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week, was 12 of 21 for 141 yards and an interception. That interception occurred with 30 seconds left in the game, when there was a potential for a game-winning drive. The ball was caught by Ray Lewis, which made the interception that much worse.
The Steelers rush defense was stingy yet again. McGahee had 14 carries and ran for only 37 yards and a touchdown. Ray Rice, who had a bruised right knee, got 20 yards in 8 carries. Just 70 yards total. Yet Flacco's TD pass at the end of the game, arguably one of the biggest passes of his career, made the lack of running game not matter.
But their pass defense fared far worse. Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason had 6 catches for 80 yards. Anquan Boldin also had 7 catches for 68 yards, and of course Houshmandzadeh beat Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden for that last, fatal touchdown.
The Ravens, however, particularly cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was able to pretty much shut down Steelers receiver Mike Wallace, limited the offense to establishing any sort of rhythm. The most productive receiver for the Steelers was Antwaan Randle El, who had 2 catches for 50 yards.
Both teams traded TDs in the first two quarters. Batch threw a 34-yard pass to Randle El, which set up a Mendenhall 1-yard touchdown in the first quarter. But at just 1:27 into the second quarter, McGahee ran for a 9-yard touchdown. The score favored the Ravens 10-7 after Billy Cundiff kicked a 33-yard field goal, the final play of the first half. Neither team scored in the third quarter.
The Ravens came into a hostile environment and were able to win against the previously unbeaten Steelers, and even came from behind, culminating a win that came down to the final minutes. The Ravens defense was able to give their offense an opportunity to win, while the Steelers offense was unable to produce after the defense's heroic 4th and goal stop.
This Steelers vs. Ravens rivalry is one of the most fun to watch in the NFL, and this game was hard-hitting and low-scoring, as many predicted. I can only hope that the Steelers will turn around and beat the Ravens at home at the end of the season, most likely in a game with lots of playoff implications.
A few naysayers may say that the game would've been totally different had Big Ben been playing. But the Ravens were able to win without star safety Ed Reed. Regardless, the Steelers were able to present Big Ben with a 3-1 record, most likely exceeding anything most football fans expected. Next weekend they have a bye, and then Ben will take the helm when the Steelers play the Cleveland Browns, another division rival, October 17 at Heinz Field. Should be a good one to watch.