Add another chapter to the fierce Ravens-Steelers rivalry.
The Thanksgiving matchup between the AFC North foes had a little bit of everything – violent collisions, post-snap skirmishes, plenty of trash talk and even some controversy – and still the Ravens were able to come away with a hard-fought 22-20 victory at M&T Bank Stadium.
"This is a classic," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "This is another classic Ravens-Steelers game. These games just keep happening."
Thursday's matchup was the fifth straight Ravens-Steelers game decided by three points or less, and it once again came down to the final minute.
The Ravens built up a lead behind the leg of kicker Justin Tucker and his five field goals, but the Steelers chipped away throughout the second half and had a chance to tie the score at the end of the fourth quarter after a fourth-down touchdown.
In the end, the game was sealed on the Steelers' failed two-point conversion in the final minute. Reserve cornerback Chykie Brown was in coverage as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's fade route bounced off the hands of wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, allowing the Ravens to hold on* *to their two-point lead for victory.
"You always know that in these Ravens-Steelers games, in the end it's going to come down to one or two plays. And it did," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "It was a great battle."
The win comes at a critical time for the Ravens, improving their record to 6-6 on the year and currently giving them control of a playoff spot as the second wild-card team until the rest of the league plays Sunday. It also drops the Steelers to 5-7 and puts the rival in an uphill climb for the postseason with just four games left to play.
"This puts us back in the picture and it never gets old," running back Ray Rice said. "These rivalry games, you see how it is. It was a hard-hitting game on both sides."
The contest came down to the final minutes, but the Ravens had their chances early to run away with the game.
The offense came out of the gate on fire and jumped to an early lead. Quarterback Joe Flacco hit wide receiver Torrey Smith on a 7-yard touchdown pass on the opening drive, and then Tucker added a pair of field goals to go up 13-0.
Flacco had the offense moving, as they converted third downs and also hit a few big plays. Flacco connected with Smith on a 54-yard pass and also hit wide receiver Jacoby Jones on a 34-yard completion. They scored on six of their nine drives and punted just once.
But the unit could not get in the end zone after the first touchdown, which left Flacco visibly frustrated at times. On two separate occasions, he was shouting as he walked to the sidelines following a few series where the Ravens had to settle for field goals.
"There were so many opportunities out there for us to score points and just win big and put the game away," said Flacco, who finished 24-of-35 passing for 251 yards and a touchdown. "We didn't do it and we let [a close finish] happen. That's just frustrating."
As the offense had to settle for field goals, the Steelers crept back into the game.
After getting shut out in the first half, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on three second-half touchdown drives to cut into the Ravens' lead. Sanders caught an 8-yard touchdown pass, running back Le'Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard carry and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery had a 1-yard touchdown catch at the end of the fourth quarter.
"When you're not converting and scoring touchdowns, you're hoping [opponents can't catch up]," Flacco said. "But in the back of your mind, you're thinking, 'Man, this is going to catch up to us.'"
The missed opportunities did cost the Ravens and led to the nail-biting finish. The Steelers also had a little help from their head coach who may have made one of the game's critical plays from the sidelines.
Mike Tomlin may have kept Jones from scoring on a third-quarter kickoff return that would have given the Ravens a 13-point lead. Jones broke through the kickoff coverage and looked to be headed for a touchdown as he ran down the Steelers' sideline.
But Tomlin had his back to the play and his foot on the field, and he hopped out of the way at the final second, forcing Jones to change his path. He ended up getting tackled from behind by cornerback Cortez Allen.
The play ended up not hurting the Ravens in the long run, but it was an odd moment.
"I was wondering, did they credit him with a tackle on that?" Harbaugh joked after the game. "Hey, that stuff happens. It happens. I really don't have anything to say about it other than, stuff like that can happen."
With Thursday's victory, the Ravens now have 10 days before the Minnesota Vikings come to town Dec. 8. With wins over the Jets and Steelers in back-to-back weeks, the Ravens have now put themselves in control of their playoff destiny with a chance to make a run down the stretch.
The players have a long weekend to recover from a physical contest against Pittsburgh, and can enjoy a big turkey dinner to celebrate.
"It's been a great Thanksgiving night for the Ravens," Harbaugh said. "I can tell you that."