Look at all those sad pandas!
Did we just witness the maturation of Joe Flacco as an NFL quarterback?
That’s what many of the talking sports heads in the media are saying this morning – that Joe, by virtue of his game winning touchdown drive during the final minute of yesterday’s win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, has now vaulted into the upper echelon of professional signal callers.
Indeed, it was a thing of beauty. Flacco and the Ravens offense went 40 yards on just four plays in 36 seconds of game clock. On the drive, they never faced a 3rd down situation. Hell, the only faced a single second down, and even that was just second-and-one. There wasn’t even the drama of a third-and-long or fourth-and-game situation as Joe faced down the beast that has been his nemesis since he entered the league, Dick LeBeau’s stifling Steeler defense, and came out on top.
On the play, T.J. Houshmandzadeh ran a great route, faking to the sideline as Flacco pump-faked, before turning towards the end zone and potential victory. When he got there, a win was indeed waiting for him, in the form of a gorgeous pass that he ran under and hauled in, in the process sending all those rabid Steeler fans home from Heinz Field using their terrible towels to wipe away their copious tears.
Joe was finally able to do what Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers have been doing to the Ravens for years – breaking their hearts with a last-second drive to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. That it happened at Heinz Field, which has for so long been a house of horrors for B’More, makes it all the more satisfying. It was the Ravens’ first victory in Pittsburgh since 2006, and it not only served to keep their hated rivals from starting the season at 4-0 and with a commanding lead in the AFC North, but it catapulted them to first place in the division and gave them an early tiebreaker over the Steelers.
The game had, to that point, been the prototypical Ravens/Steelers match that we’ve come to expect stomach ulcers from each and every time these two clash heads. The Steelers took an early lead on a Rashard Mendenhall run at the goalline, and the Ravens responded with a Willis McGahee touchdown run of their own. From that point on, midway through the second quarter, no more than four points would separate the teams at any point during the game. The Ravens led by a score of 10-7 at halftime, and by the same margin after the third quarter came to a close.
It felt all too familiar. Leading after the second and third quarters means absolutely nothing, and far too many times we’ve seen Pittsburgh dominate the final quarter and make the plays down the stretch to eke out a win. And when Mendenhall scored his second touchdown with just over seven minutes remaining, it seemed the game was taking a twist we’ve all seen far too many times before. Taking a 14-10 lead had Pittsburgh and their fans, with that defense playing at home, feeling comfortable. A bit too comfortable, as it turned out.
The Ravens took possession and went 65 yards on 10 plays on the ensuing drive…problem was, they needed 67 yards. Third-and-goal and fourth-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 2-yard line both resulted in incomplete passes, and AGAIN it looked like the Steelers would survive.
They were too conservative on their ensuing possession though, afraid to let Charlie Batch take any chances that might result in a turnover. Aided by a penalty, the Steelers went three-and-out, and Daniel Sepulveda punted from the back of his own end zone. Another penalty, this one during the punt, moved the ball to the Pitt 40 yard-line for Flacco’s penultimate drive. A drive that Ravens fans will be remembering fondly for many years to come.
For the first time in the Flacco-Harbaugh era, the Ravens won at Heinz Field. And you couldn’t write a more perfect script of how it came to pass.
Give credit to Todd Heap and Ray Rice on that final play as well. Both picked up Steelers’ blitzers from Flacco’s blind side, Heap coming all the way across the formation to stonewall Troy Polamalu.
The Ravens defense had another strong day, holding Rashard Mendenhall to just 79 yards on 25 carries, an average of just 3.16. His longest carry on the day was 11 yards, lending credence to the theory that last week’s gashing by Cleveland’s Peyton Hillis was more a matter of effort than ability. The run defense is fine.
As for the secondary, they were again fairly untested, but held up well. Charlie Batch took his shots down the field, but connected on only one, a deep ball down the right sideline to Antwaan Randle El that set up the Steelers’ first score. He tried Mike Wallace deep several times in the fourth quarter, only to be foiled each time by cornerback Lardarius Webb, who had a spectacular game. On one, Wallace got both hands on the ball in the end zone before Webb stripped it out and nearly came away with the interception himself.
Still, some interceptions would be nice to see from this group at some point soon (even if Haloti Ngata is about to destroy you if you catch it…FABIAN!)
Speaking of Ngata, he was a beast Sunday, racking up a game-high 8 solo tackles, and team-high 11 total. He made all of Heinz Field hold their breath, and all Ravens fans exclaim an “ooooooooh” when he planted Mendenhall about 3 feet deep into the turf on one short run. Ngata also registered a sack, as did Terrell Suggs, who played a strong game despite drawing double teams for most of the day. Suggs’ sack was big because it pushed the Steelers back on a long field goal attempt from Jeff Reed, and the kick ended up clanging off the right upright.
“Skippy,” as he is known in Pittsburgh, deserves special mention here. Thank you, Jeff Reed, for going out and getting hammered Saturday night, or whatever else you did to make you forget how to kick inside your own stadium. Reed missed two field goals Sunday, both going towards the open end of Heinz Field, which continues to prove impossible to master. The swirling winds on that side of the field also pushed an early Billy Cundiff attempt wide right.
It was also nice to see the Steelers being the ones beating themselves for most of the day as well, as opposed to it being the Ravens as we’re used to witnessing. While the penalties were fairly even throughout most of the game, in the end the tally was 7 for 52 yards for the Ravens, and 11 for 88 for Pittsburgh. Three of Pittsburgh’s came in the final 5:03 though, making them extra costly. Some Steelers fans are complaining about the refs this morning, so to them I’ll just say this – doesn’t feel so good when your team is on the short end, does it?
The other argument from yinzers and yinzer-wannabes alike will be this: “We didn’t have Ben.”
Well, that’s true. But Ben doesn’t play defense. TROY was out there. So were James, and Lamarr (both of whom were held extremely quiet by the Ravens’ offensive line all day).
“But the game wouldn’t have been that close if BEN was there.”
Fact: Roethlisberger has played in 4 of the 6 Ravens/Steelers games in the Harbugh-Flacco era.
Fact: ONE of those games was decided by more than four points. Stop assuming that it would have been a blowout if #7 was on the field. History doesn’t back that up.
Anyway, it was an awesome, awesome win for our Ravens, and it sets them up wonderfully moving forward. I’m not ready for the fun to end though, so let’s look at some more screencaps from the game, shall we?
Let’s play “WHAT’S MIKE TOMLIN THINKING??”
Steelers fan response:
Ready to go drown his sorrows with Skippy:
Do you watch The League on FX? If so, you’ll get this. If not, you should watch The League on FX.
“Token black coach” response:
And finally, here’s a “make your own caption/photoshop” of Charlie Batch. Have at it, Nestgoers: