So the Pittsburgh Steelers played the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football... and lost.
Sorry, I know it's kind of old news by now, but bear with me. If you've read my articles in the past -- yes, I'm talking to all four of you (hi, Mom!) -- then you probably know by now that I'm one of the most doom-and-gloom Steelers fans out there. When I heard that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't going to be playing due to a shoulder injury as well as a rib injury that could apparently puncture his aorta and kill him (sigh), I had an extremely ominous feeling about this matchup against one of our most hated rivals. Now that we've lost and it's in the books, I have the feeling that if we lose the next two games against the Cleveland Browns and then... oh wait, Baltimore again, our season is toast. That's my doomsday opinion and I'm sticking to it. Bye bye, post-season.
It's one thing to play without star safety Troy Polamalu (which the Steelers have been doing for a long ass time). But Ben has kept the team afloat even after a rather tumultuous start. He's been a steady, dependable presence and even bailed the defense out a couple of times this season. And to have him out against the Ravens just makes this loss hurt that much more, especially because it was a game the Steelers definitely could have won.
In what's becoming a scary trend, the Ravens managed to win their third straight against the Steelers and essentially take control of the AFC North. Byron Leftwich, who seemed to get very injured during this game (it's never a good sign when you trip over yourself running into the endzone), completed 16 of 33 passes for 189 yards and one interception. It started out great for him when he ran -- yes, Byron Leftwich ran -- for a 31-yard touchdown during the first offensive series ... but little happened on the offensive side after that. In fact, offensively, this game was an overall snooze-fest. That was the only offensive touchdown during the entire game. Leftwich went on to play in the final, game-winning drive despite being in visible pain, but it ended in a couple chaotic laterals, which really goes to show how most of the game went for the offense. The Steelers are 0-5 (since 2005) against the Ravens when Roethlisberger doesn't play. Ick.
Steelers fans were psyched to finally get running back Rashard Mendenhall on the lineup, but turns out that it meant very little. In the first half, he had just eight yards on three carries. Womp womp. Jonathan Dwyer, however, racked up 55 yards and seemed to be far more productive. Not entirely sure why we didn't keep utilizing him during the game, but he certainly was the least of the offense's problems. Of course, Isaac Redman was out with a concussion since it seems that all three running backs can never be healthy for one game ever.
If there is a bright side to this loss, the defense did all they could to contain the Ravens. Baltimore running back Ray Rice finished up with just 40 yards on 20 carries. That's cray. They held quarterback Joe Flacco to just 164 yards passing, which is the fifth consecutive game where the defense didn't allow a 200-yard passer. That's cray, too. The Steelers were able to rack up 311 yards against the Ravens' 200, but, yeah, they didn't win, so all these statistics really don't matter in the race to the division title, unfortunately. But still! Silver lining?
What helped put the Ravens over the edge didn't come down to the offense or defense (for the most part) -- but to the special teams. Jacoby Jones returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown, which we haven't seen the Steelers give up all season, so the Ravens went up 10-3 in the first quarter. Then the Steelers just never seemed to recover. Add a Mike Wallace fumble, where he was stripped by CB Chris Johnson and the ball was returned by safety Ed Reed (boo), which set up a field goal, as well as an interception by Leftwich in the second half, which resulted in another Ravens field goal, and the Steelers just didn't make enough big plays to win this one. Unlike the Steelers, even though the Ravens put up terrible numbers offensively, they managed to find a way to win it.
Though, like I said, the Steelers defense put up a mighty fight (especially at the end, when linebacker James Harrison had a HUGE third-down sack that gave the offense one last shot), they couldn't force any turnovers. This obviously has an incredible impact on such a close game. Still, Keenan Lewis, Will Allen, and Ryan Clark all looked fantastic on D and will hopefully keep it up in response to a bumbling (like bees, get it? Eh.) offense.
Can we get rid of those awful uniforms now too? K thanks.
As far as the Steelers receivers go, Mike Wallace did not have an impressive game, to say the least. On top of the fumble, he couldn't keep his feet in bounds during a game-winning TD catch. Just goes to show how much we're missing Antonio Brown. Jerricho Cotchery also committed two costly penalties in the first half. Byron and the receivers couldn't seem to synch up, which led to a very punt-y game. Pretty sure I lost track after the sixth punt or so of this much-anticipated game that didn't really live up to the hype.
All in all, what worried me most was seeing Leftwich in obvious pain and the coaching staff not putting in Charlie Batch, who's a rather capable backup. Okay, so it might have been equally bad with Batch playing, but in my opinion, it was worth at least getting him in there for one series. Leftwich has notorious accuracy problems -- there's a reason he isn't a starter in the NFL -- and with him grabbing his side and wincing throughout the game, you'd think that they'd put Charlie in just to see how it goes. It was a shame to waste such a great performance by the defense to have the offense (and special teams) come up so woefully short. Both teams didn't play very well, but the Ravens were able to capitalize on the big plays, and that made all the difference. Isn't that what the Steelers used to do? I'm so not a fan of the Ravens becoming the dominant force in the AFC North. It's gonna be a long couple of weeks, folks.
Sooooooo here we are without our star quarterback right in the middle of three division games. If Byron had been a little more productive, the Steelers probably could have pulled this one off. But now with the Cleveland Browns and two road games waiting in the wings, these next couple of weeks have huge implications for the Steelers and their postseason. With reports flowing in that Ben could be out for four to six weeks, well, damn it all, that really sucks -- this was not how I expected the Ravens vs. Steelers showdown to go when checking out the schedule months ago. Still, if the defense continues to play to such a high standard and perhaps get some points with a turnover or two, I could be singing a different tune next month. It's never easy for the Steelers, is it? No wonder all Steelers fans are a bunch of alcoholics. Until next week -- let's hope the team can rally from this loss and get a huge W against the Brownies.