Steelers 31 –Ravens 24
It was a tale of two halves in the most recent episode of the NFL’s best rivalry. Pittsburgh left the first half facing a fourteen-point deficit and some major questions about the offense and defense. The Steelers came out red hot in the second half, dominating on both sides of the ball while getting some contributions from unlikely sources, such as rookie Antonio Brown, who hauled in a 58-yard completion on 3rd-and-19 to set up the game-winning score.
Pittsburgh was able to take an early lead thanks to a quick defensive stop and a penalty-aided offensive drive. A 37-yard pass interference call against the Ravens moved the Steelers downfield, setting up Rashard Mendenhall’s one-yard touchdown plunge. Things evened out on the next drive with Pittsburgh CB Anthony Madison netting a 33-yard PI call, setting up a 14-yard rushing touchdown by Ray Rice, tying the score at 7-all. That was just the start of a first-half nightmare for the Steelers. Two plays after Rice’s touchdown, Terrell Suggs sacked Ben Roethlisberger, forcing a fumble that none of the players realized was actually a fumble. The football sat motionless on the turf until an alert Cory Redding snatched up the ball and returned it for a 13-yard Ravens touchdown. That play cost the Steelers the lead and their ability to challenge plays (they challenged the play and lost).
Pittsburgh couldn’t respond in the second quarter, going three-and-out on one drive and losing the ball on a fumble by Mendenhall on the next. That turnover allowed Baltimore to take a fourteen-point lead on a four-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to TE Todd Heap. The Steelers moved into field goal range after the two-minute warning but Shaun Suisham’s 43-yard attempt missed left and Pittsburgh entered halftime on the wrong end of a 21-7 score.
After a failed drive by the Pittsburgh offense to start the half, the Steelers defense decided to give the whole outfit a spark. Ryan Clark managed to pull the ball away from Ray Rice to give the offense a second chance and Big Ben capitalized, hitting TE Heath Miller in the endzone for a much-needed nine-yard touchdown. The defense continued to dominate in the third, forcing a three-and-out and ending the Ravens following drive with an interception, again by Ryan Clark. Once again, Pittsburgh cashed in on the turnover with Roethlisberger finding the ever-reliable Hines Ward for an eight-yard touchdown, tying the game at 21-21. Newly-minted Pro Bowler Brett Keisel decided it was his turn to make a play, recovering a fumbled snap two plays later to kill yet another Ravens drive at the end of the quarter.
The Steelers took their first lead since the first quarter with a 35-yard field goal, putting the AFC North Champions up 24-21 early in the fourth quarter. The Ravens nearly swung momentum back in their favor mid-way through the quarter when punt returner Lardarius Webb took a punt back to the house for a 45-yard touchdown… except that the play wiped out by a holding penalty. The Ravens settled for a 24-yard field goal instead, tying the game with under four minutes remaining. Pittsburgh began driving, but soon fell behind the chains after a Ravens sack and faced a 3rd-and-19 before the two-minute warning. It was at that point that an unheralded rookie made one of the most important plays of the game. Antonio Brown ran through the secondary to haul in a 58-yard completion, leading to the game-winning two-yard run by Rashard Mendenhall. After one more defensive stop, the Pittsburgh Steelers made the comeback official and will head to the AFC Championship Game for the second time in three years.
CB Bryant McFadden left the game with a hip injury, but later returned. Both starting tackles, LT Jonathan Scott and RT Flozell Adams, left the game in the second half.
On the ground: Rashard Mendenhall didn’t have the greatest game, netting only 46 yards on 20 carries and fumbling once. However, he did run with power when the team needed it most and picked up two rushing TDs, including the game-winner. Mewelde Moore saw some brief action late in the first half and picked up 12 yards on two carries. Isaac Redman added four yards on his only carry, which converted a third-down early in the contest.
Through the air: Big Ben was able to shrug off six sacks to complete 19 of his 32 attempts for 226 yards and two scores. His two leading receivers yardage-wise were both rookies. Antonio Brown led the team with 75 yards on three receptions, including the 58-yarder to set up the game-winning TD. Fellow-rookie Emmanuel Sanders picked up 54 yards on his four catches, with each going for a first down. Veterans Heath Miller (39 yards) and Hines Ward (25 yards) both scored through the air. Mike Wallace was bracketed all night and only contributed 20 yards on three catches.
Pittsburgh picked up five sacks on the night, with James Harrison responsible for three of them. LaMarr Woodley and Ziggy Hood also picked up sacks. Ryan Clark grabbed the team’s only interception and forced a fumble on back-to-back drives. Woodley and Brett Keisel both recovered fumbles. The defense as a whole held the Ravens to just 126 yards of offense. Lawrence Timmons led the team with nine total tackles (seven solo). No other Steelers defender had more than three solo tackles or five total tackles.
Shaun Suisham recovered from an early miss to help the team take a lead later in the game with a 35-yard field goal. Jeremy Kapinos had his best game as a Steeler, averaging 48.5 yards on four punts. Antonio Brown handled the majority of the return duties, averaging 21.3 yards on four kickoffs and 8.0 yards on two punts.
Ryan Clark set the tone for the Pittsburgh Steelers in the second half and was the leading man in an unbelievable third quarter performance. Clark came up with the team’s first two turnovers with one interception and a forced fumble, all while making some big tackles in big moments.
It’s on to the AFC Championship Game, which will take place January 23 at 6:40 PM with the broadcast on CBS. If the Patriots win their divisional game, they’ll host the Steelers in New England. If the Jets win on Sunday, Pittsburgh will serve as the hosts and the road to the Super Bowl will go through Heinz Field.
Steelers 31 –Ravens 24