The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens game was everything a football fan would expect: It was violent, hard-hitting, low-scoring, and fun to watch. And it's hard to say whether Ben Roethlisberger's nose will ever look the same.
What a showdown.
At this super-important AFC North contest, both teams had records of 8-3 and whoever won would most likely be the division winner. The Steelers already lost to the Ravens in October 17-14, so it was more essential for the Steelers to win.
The first half's one scoring drive was the result of two big passes by quarterback Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin, recently picked up from the Arizona Cardinals. Deep in their own endzone, Flacco completed a 61-yard bomb to Boldin, blowing by safety Ryan Clark, then another 14-yard touchdown pass. The 92-yard drive was the longest drive the Steelers defense ever gave up this season. Flacco was 6 for 6 for 103 yards. That was the only score of the first half.
The Steelers offense was unable to overcome mistakes in the first half. Roethlisberger threw an interception to cornerback Josh Wilson when he tried to throw deep to receiver Antonio Brown at the 2 while they were driving from Baltimore's 45-yard line. Then, the Steelers got to the 38 but on third down, Hines Ward dropped a pass that hit his chest that would've given them a first down.
Throughout the game, the running game was next to nonexistent. Rashard Mendenhall ran 19 times for 45 yards and no touchdowns, while Ray Rice had 9 carries for 32 yards. The Ravens were only able to get 11 yards of rushing on 11 attempts in the first half. With such hard-nosed defenses, this was no surprise, and the offense had to take care of things in the air, through turnovers, and field position. Roethlisberger finished the game completing 22 for 38 for 253 yards, 1 interception, and 1 touchdown with a 75.9 rating. Flacco threw 17 for 33 for 266 yards and 1 TD and garnering a rating of 88.7.
The Steelers finally got on the scoreboard after a 45-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham during the first offensive drive of the third quarter. A 33-yard gain by Mike Wallace after a short pass helped put them in field goal range. (By the way, Jeff Reed was 0-4 on field goals over 40 yards, while Suisham is currently 5-0.) Then the Ravens responded on their next drive, culminating in a 24-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, making the score 10-3.
It'd stay that way until the fourth quarter, when on the next drive, Roethlisberger completed a deep pass to Emmanuel Sanders for 28 yards, getting to the Baltimore 2. But the Ravens defense stepped up, stopping a run by Redman, then another try by Mendenhall, then stopped a short pass after a catch by Wallace. The Steelers had to kick a 19-yard field goal, and the score was 10-6 with 12:46 left. The 16-play, 79-yard drive ate up 9+ minutes of the clock and was helped by two crucial Ravens penalties.
After exchanging a few more punts, the Steelers defense helped win the game by creating a huge turnover. With less than 4 minutes left, Joe Flacco stepped back to complete throw when safety Troy Polamalu broke through untouched and hit his arm. Flacco fumbled and Woodley recovered and ran to the 9-yard line. That proved huge as Ben threw to Isaac Redman on 3rd and 10, and Redman had a brilliant run to get himself into the endzone.
When the Ravens got the ball back, Flacco was immediately sacked and lost 8 yards. But on 4th and 2, Flacco completed a pass to Boldin again for a crucial first down. The Ravens drove to the Pittsburgh's 31, but on 4th and 2, the Ravens decided to go for it instead of kicking a 49-yard field goal. Flacco's pass was short and that effectively ended the game.
This game, as is typical of Steelers vs. Ravens matches, were littered with injuries. Since it's such a defensive battle, it usually comes down to field position. That didn't bode well for the Steelers, since their punter Daniel Sepulveda left the game with a right leg injury (one of many during this game). New kicker Suisham stepped up to punt, proving he's become even more valuable since the Steelers released Reed.
Even more debate over these fines and penalties will come to light after this game. Roethlisberger was hit in the face by Haloti Ngata, resulting in a crooked and bloody nose. It's supposedly a penalty to hit a quarterback anywhere in the head area, but nothing was called. Then tight end Heath Miller left the game with a concussion after a brutal helmet hit by Jameel McClain, and again, nothing was called.
Along with Miller and Sepulveda out, the Steelers lost Flozell Adams four plays later with an ankle injury, upsetting an already depleted and suffering offensive line. Ravens tight end Todd Heap also injured his hamstring in the beginning of the game and didn't return.
But with Ben's broken foot and nose (though the "official" announcement was that the nose wasn't broken, but come on, it was as crooked as a politician), a weak offensive line, cornerback Bryant McFadden getting beat every other play, 9 penalties for 61 yards, and both tight ends out with concussions, the Steelers were able to pull out the win. It'll prove crucial as they're now one game ahead of the Ravens and are in prime position to win the division. But it's important that they not let up against the Cincinnati Bengals next week, who almost won against the New Orleans Saints earlier today. The Steelers need to win against their other division rivals to secure their #1 AFC North spot.
Regardless, the league has to figure out their stance on these dangerous hits before then. Carl Johnson, the head of officiating, told the NBC announcers that McClain should have been penalized on that play. Ya think? That would've been a 15-yard penalty on James Harrison and another $25,000 fine. Hopefully in the next few days, they'll be able to clarify why certain hits are called and others aren't. If McClain isn't fined, expect an inundation of angry letters from Steelers fans to the NFL offices.