Want to know the worst part of Daylight Savings Time? Knowing I'd have to wait a whole extra hour for the Sunday Night Football game, one of the most exciting matchups in all of the NFL: The Baltimore Ravens taking on the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Certainly this game has playoff implications as the race for the first spot in the AFC North could be decided by one or two games. All of a sudden, the Cincinnati Bengals are 6-2! Of course, all Steelers fans remembered the beating the team took in a crazy Week 1 loss. The Steelers came out tonight looking to make a statement and seek a little revenge. Unfortunately, they came up just short of the big win.
At first it seemed it might start rather badly, when Ravens running back Ray Rice took the ball on the first play and ran it 76 yards all the way into the endzone. Luckily it was called back due to a holding call. Still, the Ravens were able to move the ball down the field on their first drive. They made it all the way to the 1-yard line after a pass interference call on William Gay. The Steelers were able to hold them at the goal line and the Ravens had to settle for a Billy Cundiff 18-yard field goal.
On the Steelers' first possession, it didn't go very well at all. They went three-and-out, with a scary almost-interception to boot. The Ravens were able to orchestrate a long drive on their second possession, converting multiple 3rd-and-longs. But William Gay was able to break up a pass on 3rd-and-5, and the Ravens set up for a 40-yard field goal attempt -- but Cundiff missed it!
The Steelers offense found some life on their next possession. They ran three plays for 49 yards, ending the first quarter. Wide receiver Hines Ward got hit hard by Ray Lewis on third down, which knocked the ball out and led to an incomplete pass ruling. That set up a Shaun Suisham 36-yard field goal, and we got a 3-3 tied game. Unfortunately, Hines never returned to the game. Also of note: Emmanuel Sanders was also out since his mother sadly passed a few days ago.
As what seemed to be the theme of the first half, the Ravens went down the field, yet again were stopped short, and Cundiff made a 43-yard field goal. And then yet again the Steelers weren't able to make it into the endzone, and Suisham made it 6-6 with 1:05 to go in the first half. On the Ravens' last possession of the half, with the help of a Ryan Clark helmet-to-helmet foul (and they didn't call Lewis' hit on Ward?), it gave them the opportunity to try for a 51-yard field goal. Cundiff made it, and the half ended at 9-6.
On the Steelers' opening possession of the second half, things seemed to be moving along swimmingly, with big catches from Antonio Brown (who ended up with 5 catches for 109 yards) and Mike Wallace as well as decent runs by Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman. They were only 18 yards away from the endzone when Ben made a short pass to his right and it was picked off by Terrell Suggs. It was a very strange play and Ben threw it right to him; it seemed like he took everyone on the offense by surprise. And the Steelers ended up paying for it.
When the Ravens got the ball off the interception, it didn't go very well for the Steelers. Coach Mike Tomlin challenged a second-down catch and lost, perhaps losing what could have been a very important time-out (didn't really matter much in the end). Then cornerback Ike Taylor was penalized on a pass interference call, setting up the Ravens at 1st-and-goal at the 4. On 2nd-and-goal, Ray Rice ran it in for a touchdown, culminating a 12-play, 71-yard drive. A 10-point hole against the #1 defense in the NFL? Things were looking bleak.
But per usual, Ben redeemed himself and led a huge 11-play, 80-yard drive. Antonio Brown made a seemingly impossible catch landing on his head on 3rd-and-forever. In the red zone, Ben scrambled on 3rd-and-5 and was just short of the goal line. With half a yard to go, Mendenhall ran it right in for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 3.
On the Ravens' next drive, they kept converting huge third downs, just when the Steelers needed the ball the most. They were eating up the clock and, in my mind, I thought it would have been the perfect time to get a turnover, something the defense hasn't been able to do all season. Somehow, after converting 5-for-5 third downs on this drive, Flacco was sacked and stripped of the ball by James Harrison and the ball was picked up by William Gay. It was a pretty incredible defensive stand when the Steelers needed it most.
With around 7 minutes to go, this was the time I started to sweat. The Steelers drove all the way up to the 25. On 3rd-and-5, the pocket collapsed, Ben rolled right, and then threw it straight at Mike Wallace for a touchdown, culminating a 6-play, 58-yard drive. It even looked like Antonio Brown was wide open ready for the ball, but Wallace cut in front and got the 6. Score: 20-16.
Then the defense stepped up, forcing the Ravens to go three-and-out with 4:42 left in the game. How much did we miss James Harrison?? Jerricho Cotchery, who managed to catch some clutch tipped passes all through the game, converted a huge 3rd-and-4 on the following possession. A really stupid delay of game penalty nullified a 47-yard field goal attempt, forcing the Steelers to punt. That could have made the difference in this game. What the heck?
The Ravens got the ball back, producing a game-winning drive, completely nullifying any of the amazing plays the defense produced all game. Flacco even converted on 4th-and-1. He also went for the win on a long pass to Torrey Smith, and it went straight through his fingertips. Then Anquan Boldin dropped what would have been a sure catch too. With only a few seconds left, and me feeling nervous but positive, Smith redeemed himself and caught the ball for a 26-yard touchdown with 8 seconds left in the game. The defense let the Ravens offense go down the field for 92 yards. And that was the game. What. The. Hell.
For a team that prides itself so much on its power defense, and counting on them to make big plays for the win, Flacco got the best of them in the end. FML. This was one of the worst ways to lose.
A sweep of the series gives the Ravens a tie-break if they end up with the same record as Pittsburgh. It was an incredible ending and completely uncharacteristic of the Steelers defense. A hard-fought battle on both sides and you gotta give credit to the Ravens offense for doing the unthinkable at the end of the game. This loss killed a four-game winning streak for the Steelers and might be a tough one to recover from, especially facing another AFC North opponent after two tough games. This was, for lack of a better word, a heartbreaker.
The defense looked relatively solid up until that last drive. The O-line even held up. Ben, minus that interception (which, gahhhh), throwing for 365 yards. All the receivers made their presence known even without Ward and Smith. Special teams didn't colossally screw up. It was the Steelers' game to win, especially in the fourth quarter with the lead. The Ravens at the end, it seemed, simply wanted it more. How I wish I had taken out some sort of insurance on my flat-screen TV so I could throw something hard and heavy at it.
So, like I said, the Steelers take on the Bengals next week, and if they lose that one, it'll be a tough hole to dig themselves out of in terms of winning the race for the AFC North. Still, hopefully we'll see Baltimore one more time in the playoffs. Enjoy this win, Ravens fans. Glad we're all part of the best rivalry in the NFL. Though I think my life would be far less stressful not being part of it...
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