Lots to talk about, so let's get right to it:
After reviewing the play, and with a day to think about it, here are my takes on Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin and Tripgate:
a) Regardless of his intentions, a league that micromanages so much of what happens on the field can't let a coach get away with that. It was a joke that Tomlin wasn't flagged, and he certainly should be fined to ensure that other coaches don't think about seeing what they can get away with. The league knows this. I expect him to get fined.
b) I don't think he was intentionally trying to trip Jones. I'm probably in the minority, but I just don't think that's his move there. It makes for a great story line and I know coaches will do almost anything to get an edge, but trip a player on the field? With every flinch in games now available for close-up scrutiny in high-definition? Nah, I'm not buying it. He's smarter than that. I think Tomlin did lose track of where he was as he stalked the sideline, and in scrambling when he realized he had to get out of the way, his foot flinched onto the field. His bad, for sure, and it should cost him. But it wasn't done on purpose.
c) After the game, Jones wanted no part of blaming Tomlin for getting caught from behind because I think he knows he would have gotten caught either way.
Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said after the game that both the Ravens and Steelers had improved a lot since their first meeting at Heinz Field on Oct. 20.
It's easy to see that the Steelers have turned their season around. They started 0-4 and had a three-game winning streak broken Thursday night. What about the Ravens? Are they really getting better? I would say yes. They've won two in a row, three of their last four, and here's what's going right:
a) Remember when slow starts were causing such a fuss and the Ravens didn't hold a lead for a month? Those days are over. In their last four games, the Ravens have taken first-half leads of 17-0 against Cincinnati, 10-0 against Chicago, 9-3 against the Jets, and 10-0 against the Steelers. Playing while ahead, rather than from behind, makes a huge difference in these close games the Ravens keep playing.
b) The running game is no longer a lost cause. It isn't nearly where the Ravens want it, and I'm not sure that's changing in 2013. But it certainly has progressed, giving the Ravens more offensive balance. Over their last four games, the Ravens have averaged exactly 100 yards per game on the ground – 29 more than they were averaging through week 9.
c) They've stopped giving things away. For me, one of the big turning points of the season was Joe Flacco's second interception in Chicago, the one right before halftime. It was a low risk-reward shot, the Ravens paid for it, and Harbaugh was palpably unhappy. After that game, the coaches stressed that it was time to stop giving games away. It seems the message got through. Flacco has thrown just one pick in the last 10 quarters, and that was a result of a bad route by Marlon Brown.
Understand, the team remains a work in progress, with several glaring issues. There were so many false-start penalties Thursday night that I lost count. That should not he happening. And the defense continues to struggle late in games. All but one of those nice early leads cited above evaporated either entirely or very nearly. That's a bad habit that could prove costly at some point.
Still, there's no doubt things are trending in the right direction overall. Thursday night's performance was in the neighborhood of playoff-caliber. Now the trick is to keep going in that direction.
I'm not going to get too down on the defense for what happened late Thursday night. Roethlisberger is basically like the villain in a slasher movie. You can't kill him off because he keeps coming back from the dead.
How many times have we seen him marching across the field late in a game as the fans at M&T Stadium sink into dread? As Harbaugh said, he's probably the toughest quarterback in the league to defend in the pocket. The Ravens got the best of him early Thursday night, but in the end, you seldom beat him so much as just survive him. That's what the Ravens did.
Whom should Baltimore's fans root for when the Cincinnati Bengals play the Chargers in San Diego Sunday? It's an interesting question. A loss by the Chargers would help the Ravens in their pursuit of a wild-card playoff berth. A loss by the Bengals would pull the Ravens within a game of first place in the AFC North.
I say you root for the Chargers to win. Making the playoffs as a division winner beats going in as a wild-card because you get a higher seed and at least one home game.
It seemed farfetched even recently that the Ravens could catch the Bengals, but if they're just one game out with four to play, including one with the Bengals, the window is wide open, the goal eminently attainable. I say go for that.