Well, it certainly wasn’t the blowout that we were expecting and hoping for when we heard early Saturday morning that Ben Roethisberger wouldn’t be gracing the field with his big dumb concussed self, but we’ll take a win any way we can get it over Pittsburgh.
If “any way we can get it” includes prime time, a national audience, and handing out the type of crushing loss that we’ve been on the other end of all season, well then, all the better.
First things first, you have to hand it to Dennis Dixon. A guy that has never even practiced with the first team offense stepped in and hardly missed a beat. He had the Steelers in a position to win the game, thanks to his 33-yard touchdown pass in the first half and 24-yard TD scramble with just over six minutes to play. Luckily for the Ravens, he finally made the critical mistake, when he misread the zone blitz and delivered the ball directly to the waiting palms of Paul Kruger in overtime, which set up the game winning field goal for the good guys in purple.
By the same token, as good as Dixon was, that’s how bad the Ravens defense was to get burned by a guy making his first career start. They routinely got torched on first down, setting up 2nd and 3rd and shorts aplenty for Dixon and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Even when EVERYONE IN THE STADIUM knew Pittsburgh was going to run the ball, they still pushed around the Ravens’ front seven easily, and 6 or 7 yards from Rashard Mendenhall (who finished with 95 yards) was the rule rather than the exception. Sloppy tackling, no penetration, and an overall lackluster effort from the tackles and linebackers nearly cost the Ravens this very winnable game.
In the secondary, Lardarius Webb, filling in for the injured Fabian Washington, proved to be the least of the Ravens’ worries. Dominique Foxworth continued his trend of abominable play, getting turned around and burnt like toast by Santonio Holmes on the 33-yard touchdown, and then failing miserably to tackle Holmes or force him out of bounds despite having about 15 yards to make a play. DIVE AT HIS LEGS MAN!…instead of getting stiff armed all the way to paydirt. Holmes has now scored a touchdown in something like 34 straight games against the Ravens. Ah well, better him than Cheap Shot (who was gloriously spotted with tears in his eyes again after the game…always a heart-warming sight.)
On offense, it was again a story of two halves for the Ravens. This time though, the usual was reversed. They played extremely well in the first half, building a 14-7 lead, moving the ball on the ground and through the air, and most importantly, keeping Joe Flacco clean. However, in the second half, Dick Lebeau’s defense made the necessary adjustments, and Cam Cameron had no answers, as the Ravens managed only 3 points, which came with under two minutes to play. The Steelers sacked Flacco five times after intermission, and caused three fumbles, two of which they recovered. Michael Oher and Jared Gaither, who dominated Steelers’ LBs James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley in the early going, appeared to wear down as the game went on, and Flacco was under ever increasing duress.
Fortunately, Kruger’s INT return set the Ravens up with good enough field position where the Steelers’ pass rush was a moot point. Four rushes by Ray Rice and a kneel from Joe Cool were enough to set up Billy Cundiff for a chip shot 29-yarder to send the yinzers, both real and wannabe, and their beat up team home with a big loss.
Cundiff had missed short on a 56-yard attempt as regulation expired, a try that was rushed due to more poor use of timeouts by John Harbaugh. This week his head-scratcher came with 14:50 to go in the game, when he called timeout on 4th-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 34, only to come out and punt the ball anyway. It will be interesting to hear his explanation for that one (BTW, if anybody has heard it, please, enlighten me).
John made up for it later though, as what could have been a disastrous decision to go for it on 4th-and-5 from their own 46 with 3:31 to play ended up looking like a stroke of genius when Flacco found Rice, out of the slot, and Mighty Mouse made a few Pittsburgh defenders look silly on his way to a 44-yard gain that set up the game-tying field goal.
Speaking of Ray Rice…wow. Praise continues to be heaped on the second year back week after week, and he just keeps on coming up with bigger and bigger plays. Rice put up over 100 yards of total offense for the eighth consecutive game, and on one 3rd-down conversion where he needed 12 and picked up 18, he juked about four Pittsburgh defenders completely out of their jocks. I went from screaming at Flacco for checking down to jumping for joy as Rice made the guys wearing white look like Pop Warner newbies.
Special teams was a disappointment on kickoffs, but Chris Carr actually made some plays on punt returns, much to the surprise of…well, everyone. Of course the Ravens’ get flagged for an illegal block on pretty much every return though, so most of it was for naught. Why can’t we tell the difference between the front of someone and their back? HEY TAVARES GOODEN – THE FRONT IS THE SIDE WITH THE FACEMASK! (Gooden proceeds to grab the guy by his facemask and throw him down).
Also, before I forget – thanks to HEEEEEEEEEEEEATH Miller for being scared of FRANK WALKER and doing a turf-dive instead of fighting for a first down in overtime. You da man, Heath.
Pittsburgh fans will of course belittle our nice win by droning on about Polamalu and Benny Boy not playing, and that’s certainly their prerogative. However, I seem to remember a game last season, where the home team won on an overtime field goal despite the visitors’ quarterback making just his third career start, in a hostile environment, on national television.
Steelers 23 Ravens 20, Week 4 2008.
The towel-wavers didn’t apologize for that win, and we’re not apologizing for this one.
With the win, the Ravens move to 6-5 and in a virtual tie with Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, just behind Denver for the AFC Wild Card spots. Let’s hope this hard fought, emotional win can propel them to a nice stretch-run winning streak.
A fun sub-plot that emerged from this game reared its head in the form of the pre-game interview between Bob Costas and Cheap Shot. Shot, much like the past hits NBC showed him delivering to Ed Reed, blindsided his quarterback. Basically, Shot had this to say regarding Baby Ben sitting out the game last night:
Wow. We’ve always known Shot was far from anything resembling a class act, but to call out the guy who has helped you to two Super Bowl rings and gobs of victories and good feelings, on National television no less, for not jeopardizing his future health and well being, all because losing to the Ravens makes your eyes well up like they did the first time you watched Titanic?
Locker room strife in Pittsburgh? Make mine a double.