James Hurst: Kelechi Osemele 'Saved My Life' In Pittsburgh Game

It was one of the biggest plays of Saturday's game.

On third-and-7 from the Pittsburgh 11, quarterback Joe Flacco dropped back and surveyed the field, originally looking for tight end Owen Daniels. Meanwhile, veteran Steelers pass rusher James Harrison pulled a nice move on left tackle James Hurst, beating him around the edge.

For a second, it appeared Flacco was a sitting duck. 

Then … thwack! … left guard Kelechi Osemele slid over and thumped Harrison to the turf. That freed Flacco, who pivoted back to his left, scrambled and found wide receiver Torrey Smith open in the back of the end zone.

When they got back to the bench, Hurst had a special thanks for Osemele.

"I told him he saved my life," Hurst said.

Somewhat unbelievably, the Ravens started two rookies on their offensive line, in Pittsburgh, in the playoffs, and still gave up just one sack and four quarterback hits.

It's a testament to Hurst, an undrafted rookie from North Carolina, and right guard John Urschel, a fifth-round pick out of Penn State. But it's also speaks to the guidance and assistance from veterans Osemele, center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Marshal Yanda.

After Saturday's 30-17 victory, the offensive line that won in the trenches for much of the game pointed to each other for the credit.

"It kind of proves that no matter what happens to an offensive line unit, as far as injuries go, it's always important to be close with your offensive line mates," Osemele said.

"I feel like off the field we have that type of chemistry. We knew we have each other's backs. If something happens in a game or in practice, I know Marshal is going to be the first guy running in there."

Hurst and Urschel were called into starting duty in Week 17 against Cleveland because of the injury to left tackle Eugene Monroe (ankle) and season-ending injury to right tackle Rick Wagner (foot). It's not the first time they've stepped in, however.

Hurst started four games from Weeks 4-7 when Monroe was recovering from a knee injury. Urschel started a pair of games in Weeks 6 and 7 when Osemele was sidelined.

While the prior experience helped, starting in the playoffs – at Heinz Field – is a different story.

"It's real nerve-wracking," Hurst said. "There's a lot of pressure – rivalry, playoff game. Everything is a first for me. There was a lot of nerves before the game, but you've got to get in a groove and realize you're playing football."

"Wow. Biggest game of my life, and that's an understatement," Urschel added. "It was just great to have the older guys, Marshal and Jeremy next to me, to keep me calm, help me out when I needed it. They made my job, very, very easy."

Very, very easy is an overstatement, but the veterans are certainly helping. Both Hurst and Urschel raved about Yanda, who is headed to his fourth Pro Bowl.

Hurst said Yanda "does everything the right way."

"He's the rock of this offensive line," Urschel added. "Believe me, that guy helps me like you wouldn't believe during games like these."

In order for the veterans to teach, they must have willing students, however. Hurst and Urschel have drawn positive remarks from Head Coach John Harbaugh throughout the season for their intelligence. They seemed to catch on quickly.

After Saturday's game, Osmele said the rookies are "mature and have a good work ethic."

"Since Day 1 they haven't been guys who space off or fall asleep in meetings or skip out on workouts," Osemele said.

"They've always been the guys who want to do the extra work, who want to stay after practice and get better. I feel like having rookies like that is key because people go down all the time. It's a testament to those two guys to be the kind of men to take care of their business at such a young age."

It's unknown whether both rookies will get another playoff start Saturday in New England. Monroe could be healthy enough to play. If the Ravens bring him back, Hurst could move to right tackle (shifting Yanda back inside to guard), or Baltimore could stick with Urschel and Yanda.

Either way, Hurst and Urschel have made a strong statement about their promise.

"I think we played as a unit. You've got to play together, have each other's backs," Hurst said. "It's a great experience. This is going to be a great win in my career, and I'm excited to say I got it."

Check out all the best photos from the AFC Wild Card match-up between the Ravens and Steelers at Heinz Field.

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