Many thought the Ravens-Steelers rivalry had lost some of its excitement, but Sunday resembled a classic AFC North grudge match. The Ravens pulled out a 26-23 win in overtime to improve to 3-2 on the season.
“It’s a big pull-yourself-up win for Baltimore … a win in Pittsburgh is a win in Pittsburgh,” ESPN’s Chris Berman said.
Here are pundits’ takeaways from the win:
Time to Put Marlon Humphrey in the Elite Cornerback Conversation
Marlon Humphrey is really, really good.
Humphrey came away with the play of the game, punching out the ball from JuJu Smith-Schuster in overtime to set up Justin Tucker’s 46-yard game-winning field goal.
It’s now back-to-back standout performances for Humphrey after shutting down Odell Beckham Jr. last week, and pundits are ready to put him into the elite cornerback conversation.
“By all accounts, Humphrey ascended toward the upper echelon of the NFL’s defensive backs long before he stunned a packed crowd at Heinz Field with his heroics in overtime Sunday,” Penn Live’s Aaron Kasinitz wrote.
“Although Humphrey acknowledged he has made a handful of errors in each game, he has been a consistent standout on a defense that has been abysmal for long stretches this season,” Press Box’s Bo Smolka wrote. “Last week, he limited Cleveland Browns All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham to two catches for 20 yards, holding him without a catch over the first three quarters of a game for the first time in his career.”
Along with Tucker, Baltimore Beatdown’s Kyle Barber named Humphrey his Co-MVP of the game.
“This absolute legend goes right back to the fruit punch against Smith-Schuster and knocks out the pigskin,” Barber wrote. “But when he made the play, he didn’t stop. He kept running and reeled in the forced fumble, completing the takeaway with a wonderful bounce.”
As Barber pointed out, the most underrated part of Humphrey’s punch out was his awareness to recover the fumble.
“To get up, with the ball bouncing and the AFC North in the balance, Humphrey makes the play,” NFL Network’s Brian Baldinger said. “That is a great lesson learned for everybody in the NFL.”
Humphrey’s signature play could provide a spark for the Ravens moving forward.
“On a day when the Ravens defense again largely suffered against novice quarterbacks, succumbing to foolish penalties and miscues, the stud cornerback's strip of JuJu Smith-Schuster in overtime – and ability to somehow recover the fumble, also, well downfield, led to the win and may provide a lift that carries over for more than just a game or two."
Earl Thomas Speaks Out After Mason Rudolph Hit
Earl Thomas’ hit on Mason Rudolph wasn’t easy for anyone to watch, especially the player who delivered the blow.
After speaking to reporters in the locker room, Thomas told SiriusXM’s NFL Radio that it was “difficult” to continue playing after the hit.
“A flag wasn’t initially thrown until they saw how serious it was … which was understandable because he was definitely hurt,” Thomas said.
“I never want to be in that situation. I never want to hurt my team first of all, and I never want to hurt anybody like that. I was just playing football. I thought it was a clean hit and I’m sorry it had to happen like that.”
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Rudolph was able to sleep at his home last night after leaving a local Pittsburgh hospital, but remains in concussion protocol.
Thomas was flagged for the hit, but not ejected. However, FOX Sports’ Rules Analyst Dean Blandino said there’s a chance Thomas could be fined this week.
“New York can get involved when there’s a flag on the field,” Blandino said. “They can look at it, but obviously they felt it didn’t raise to the standard of a disqualification and Thomas stayed in the game. But I would expect that the league will look at this during the week, and there could be a potential fine coming.”
Justin Tucker Gets His Postgame Celebration
Justin Tucker loves kicking at Heinz Field and got the ultimate treatment as he was lifted off the field by his teammates after his game-winning kick.
There was plenty to celebrate after coming away with a crucial division win, but Tucker wasn’t done. About an hour after the game concluded, he made sure to soak it all in.
“Through his antics and rise to stardom, Tucker’s never abandoned his preparation habits or lost his ability to focus,” Kasinitz wrote. “That’s part of the reason why he gets to prepare — and celebrate — how he wants.”
Key Defensive Contributions Come From Unexpected Sources
Humphrey’s punch out will top all of the headlines, but the Ravens also received key defensive contributions from unexpected sources.
Newly signed linebacker Josh Bynes made the start at linebacker after joining the team on Wednesday and intercepted a pass from Jaylen Samuel on the Steelers’ second possession.
L.J. Fort also played well in kick coverage.
With Anthony Averett scratched, Maurice Canady led the defense with seven tackles (five solo). Canady was cut before the end of training camp and signed back to the practice squad. He’s stepped up big in the last two weeks.
“He had a great pass breakup which was somehow ruled a catch,” Barber wrote. “He was also just shy of an interception, which was taken from him by a smart offensive pass interference penalty ... He was targeted a lot but what do you expect when Humphrey is on the opposite side. He’s playing up to the level we expected and even better in some cases.”
AFC North is a Two-Team Race
With the win, the Ravens retake sole possession in the AFC North – for now. I’m sure plenty of players and coaches will be watching tonight as the Browns take on the undefeated 49ers.
The Steelers drop to 1-4 on the season, and a last-second loss to the Cardinals leaves the Bengals winless at 0-5.
Smolka believes the Ravens and Browns have distanced themselves in the race for the division title.
“Had the Steelers won, the Ravens would have dropped into a tie with the Steelers at 2-3 and reeling from a third straight loss,” Smolka wrote. “... [I]t seems implausible that the Steelers could make a late charge, especially if they are down to undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges, depending on Rudolph’s injury.”
The Ravens will host the Bengals next week with the chance to get their second straight win. There aren’t any “gimmes” in division matchups, but pundits are in agreement that the Ravens can’t afford any hiccups next week.
The next stretch of the schedule doesn’t provide any favors.
“On Sunday, they’ll face the winless Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium, a game they cannot overlook before a daunting trip to Seattle to face the 4-1 Seahawks and an Oct. 20 home matchup against the undefeated New England Patriots,” The Baltimore Sun’s Jonas Shaffer wrote.