The Ravens offense stumbled out of the gates again Saturday night in Pittsburgh.
On the first play, quarterback Joe Flacco missed open receiver Steve Smith Sr. on a deep pass to the right. Then Flacco tripped over his own man trying to hand the ball off.
It looked like it could be the start of another sluggish offensive performance for Baltimore.
But the Ravens stayed on the gas.
Behind the play-calling of Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak and throws by Flacco, Baltimore maintained its aggressiveness. That aggressiveness is what the Ravens credit with their offensive turnaround and 30-point showing Saturday night.
After the initial three-and-out, Baltimore scored points on six of its next seven drives.
"That was kind of the game plan," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We wanted to come here and go after the game. We didn't want to play scared so to speak."
That viewpoint is shared by the man under center wearing jersey No. 5. Flacco often talks about playing unleashed, and he has input on the game plan. The quarterback with a 10-4 career postseason record has a unique viewpoint on the matter.
"You have to play these games to win. You can't play to not lose. You have to go out there and you have to let everything go and you can't worry about the outcome," Flacco said.
"These games are all extra. We are fighting for one big prize. You have to do the thing to get to that point. That's playing aggressive football – not having a conscience."
The Ravens offense seemed lethargic down the final stretch of the regular season.
The Ravens posted just 314 yards and one offensive touchdown against the Jaguars. The Ravens were handcuffed by the Texans to the tune of just 211 yards. Baltimore's offense finally came alive in the fourth quarter against the Browns in Week 17. That day, the Ravens had 135 yards through three quarters, then 248 in the fourth quarter.
Baltimore knew it had to break out offensively to have a chance in the playoffs. The Steelers, with a weakened secondary and attacking defense, provided a good opportunity.
"We know they do a lot of things defensively in terms of bringing blitzes, and they're out of position where we can get some big plays out of it," tight end Owen Daniels said. "That was our mindset going in, to be aggressive, and it ended up working out for us."
The Ravens' aggressiveness could be easily seen in a few specific instances during Saturday's game.
After the Ravens' initial three-and-out, they didn't get the ball back again until there was only one minute, 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
Flacco came out heaving the ball. He went deep for wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Jones didn't make the catch, but he was drilled in the head and neck area by Steelers safety Mike Mitchell's helmet, giving the Ravens a free 15 yards on unnecessary roughness.
Flacco continued taking shots. He threw a deep pass to the right to Daniels for 18 yards. That softened up the Steelers defense, leading to runs of 9, 7 and 14 yards by running back Justin Forsett. The aggressive passing set up the running. Bernard Pierce finished the drive with a 5-yard score as the Ravens took the lead, ultimately for good, at 7-3.
The Ravens stayed on the gas again.
On their first play of the next drive, Flacco went deep for Smith Sr. for a 23-yard gain off a play-action fake. That got a field-goal drive started.
On the Ravens' first drive of the second half, they took a deep shot to receiver Torrey Smith on third-and-2. The pass was incomplete, but it drew a defensive pass interference penalty. Baltimore got another field goal.
Baltimore's next drive opened with another bomb down the right sideline, this time to Smith Sr. He climbed over cornerback Brice McCain to haul in the 40-yard catch. That set up the 11-yard touchdown to Torrey Smith.
"I appreciate Joe giving me an opportunity and Gary called the play," Smith Sr. said. "I was trying to make the play in between two guys and Joe did a real good job of giving me an opportunity."
The Ravens stayed aggressive with the lead in the fourth quarter. Facing a fourth-and-1 from midfield, they called a quarterback sneak. It was a gutsy call some coaches might not make, but Flacco and the offensive line delivered with a 2-yard push up the middle.
The momentum didn't last long, however, as Forsett fumbled after running into his own man on the very next play, giving the Steelers new life with 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter. They scored a touchdown two plays later to make it 20-15.
Yet again, Baltimore came back swinging. Facing a third-and-1 from the Pittsburgh 34 on the next drive, Kubiak called for a deep pass to Torrey Smith instead of trying to run for the first down. The pass went incomplete, forcing kicker Justin Tucker on for a difficult 52-yard attempt.
It was a huge drive for momentum as the Ravens needed points to respond to the sudden change. And in that critical situation, they went deep.
"The call to throw in the end zone was Gary's call. It was a great call," Harbaugh said. "We were a hair's breath away from putting the game away right there."
Flacco also liked the decision.
"We had points with Justin Tucker," Flacco said. "I thought they were good calls. I was excited about them."
The final aggressive call came after outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' interception with his knees. It seemed the perfect time for the Ravens to run the ball and work the clock. Instead, Kubiak dialed up a play-action bootleg. Flacco rolled to his right and found rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore open for a 21-yard touchdown.
That put the Ravens up 30-15, and was quite close to being the nail in the Steelers' coffin.
"I thought Gary Kubiak called a great game," Harbaugh said. "He kept them off balance."
Get in on the celebration by checking out glorious pictures of the Ravens rejoining in their victory.