The Ravens aren't going to make the playoffs.
But sweeping the rival Steelers and stomping on their playoff chances may be the next-best thing.
With its fourth starting quarterback this season in Ryan Mallett, playing in his first game as a Raven, Baltimore upset the surging Pittsburgh Steelers at home, 20-17.
M&T Bank Stadium was full of Steelers fans expecting to see their high-octane offense blow past the downtrodden Ravens. Those towels were left limp in their pockets for much of the day.
It's been a difficult and emotionally draining season, but Sunday's win over the arch rivals was a break in the clouds and a testament to the Ravens' fighting spirit.
For a bit in the fourth quarter, it appeared Baltimore's miscues might bite them again. Outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw lined up in the neutral zone, nullifying cornerback Jimmy Smith's 101-yard interception return for a touchdown that may have sealed the game.
The defense allowed a touchdown after that mistake, but got another chance to seal the game in the final minutes.
After failing so many times this season in the exact situation, the Ravens got it done this time. Upshaw helped redeem himself with a sack, and Smith and fellow corner Shareece Wright defended two long passes, getting a turnover on downs.
In his first start with the Ravens, with less than two weeks to prepare, Mallett played a stellar game. He finished 28-of-41 for 274 yards with one touchdown and an interception.
The Ravens defense deserves much of the credit, however. Pittsburgh entered the game averaging 35 points per game over their last six contests.
Baltimore's defensive front dominated and crushed Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger throughout the game. They sacked him three times and forced him into two interceptions. Baltimore entered the game with just five picks all season and got two on Sunday. The Ravens didn't turn the ball over once.
Turning Point Of The Game
Upshaw's mistake could have turned the game, as it gave the Steelers a huge break. But Upshaw and Baltimore's defense clamped down on the next drive. Upshaw bull rushed Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva and wrapped up Roethlisberger by his ankles. That put Pittsburgh in a second-and-long situation they couldn't get out of.
- After quickly moving down the field on their opening drive, the Steelers went for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 25. Running back DeAngelo Williams was stuffed at the line of scrimmage by linebacker Daryl Smith and Upshaw, giving the Ravens an early injection of momentum.
- The Ravens put together one of their most impressive offensive drives of the year on the next possession and their first of the game. Mallett went 5-for-7, including 4-for-4 on third down. Running backs Javorius "Buck" Allen and Terrance West ran eight times for 38 yards. Mallett capped the 15-play, 75-yard drive with a perfectly lofted touchdown pass to big wide receiver Chris Matthews to give the Ravens an early 7-0 lead.
- Referees conferred and changed a ruling on the field, without a challenge, ruling wide receiver Chris Givens down by contact after 6 yards instead of what would have been a 40-yard gain. The Ravens kept marching and settled for a 37-yard field goal to extend their lead to 10-3 in the second quarter.
- Linebacker Daryl Smith intercepted Roethlisberger after defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan crushed the Steelers quarterback. Roethlisberger tried to squeeze a tight pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown and Daryl Smith made the leaping pick on a nice catch over his head, giving the Ravens possession near midfield.
- Baltimore converted the turnover into a 50-yard field goal by Justin Tucker, giving the Ravens a 14-3 lead. It broke an 0-for-5 streak for Tucker from 50 yards or beyond this season.
- A 29-yard pass interference penalty against Jimmy Smith, then another 24-yard pass interference on safety Kendrick Lewis in the end zone put the Steelers in position for a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Williams, cutting Baltimore's lead to 13-10 in the third quarter. Pittsburgh started taking deep shots that put the Ravens secondary in a bind.
- After notching just five interceptions all season heading into the game, the Ravens got their second of the game when Jimmy Smith boxed out Brown and Roethlisberger threw the ball straight into Smith's stomach. The Ravens took over possession at their own 42-yard line with about 13 minutes left.
- Givens posted just one catch for 17 yards over the previous two games, but blew behind the Steelers defense for a 39-yard gain. Mallett then found fullback Kyle Juszczyk wide open for a 34-yard rumble and Allen finished off the drive with a 3-yard touchdown plunge, giving Baltimore a 10-point lead with 10:35 remaining.
- Jimmy Smith picked off a deflected pass in the end zone and returned it 101 yards for a touchdown. But wait, a yellow flag called the pick back. Upshaw was lined up in the neutral zone. The penalty gave the Steelers another chance and theyscored on a 1-yard*Williams' *run two plays later. Instead of taking a potential 27-10 lead, the Ravens led, 20-17 with six minutes, 33 seconds left.
QB Ryan Mallett
In his first start with the Ravens, Mallett threw for a career-high 274 yards. He completed 28 of 41 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions. Despite less than two weeks to prepare, Mallett looked comfortable from the start and displayed good command of the offense and a strong arm. He had several impressive throws down the seam.
On The Horizon
The Ravens will close out the regular season in Cincinnati against a Bengals team that has already punched its playoff ticket.