Najee Harris (22 carries, 111 yards) became the first back all season to top 100 yards against Baltimore. The Ravens gave up 198 yards on the ground, putting pressure on their entire defense until it finally broke on Pittsburgh's game-winning drive late in the fourth quarter.
Sunday's 16-13 loss to Pittsburgh hurt the Ravens for many reasons, but the way Pittsburgh ran the ball hurt their pride.
Stopping the run has rarely been an issue for Baltimore, especially since Pro Bowl linebacker Roquan Smith arrived in Week 8. But with veteran defensive end Calais Campbell (knee) missing his second straight game for Baltimore, the Steelers had their way on the ground, and the Ravens had no answer. For the Ravens to have playoff success, their run defense can't be as porous as it was against Pittsburgh.
"Honestly, it's not about them, it's about us," safety Kyle Hamilton said. "We were playing gaps, playing run to the ball, playing physical, but we just have to get better. Top to bottom, we have to figure it out. Not that it's broken, but we can't have lapses like that, have them running all over the field."
Inside linebacker Patrick Queen called it a butt whipping in more colorful language.
"We got our (expletive) whupped," Queen said. "We didn't play good football. We didn't communicate enough. We we're physical enough. We just got whupped."
Asked to describe his emotions, Queen said, "Pissed off. We shouldn't let that happen. That's on us, the linebackers, the front seven. Can't let them run the ball."
The Steelers didn't fool the Ravens with gadget plays or misdirection. They gave the ball to Harris and their offensive line got the best of Baltimore's front seven. Harris kept picking up first downs or putting Pittsburgh in manageable down-and-distance, taking pressure off rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett.
The Ravens stiffened in the red zone most of the game, holding the Steelers to three field goals and leading 13-9 with just under 10 minutes to play. But after Baltimore's second straight three-and-out in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh put together an 80-yard, 11-play drive to win the game, capped by Pickett's 10-yard touchdown pass to Harris with 1:02 left to play.
On the touchdown, Pickett scrambled away from Baltimore's pass rush and made a terrific throw to Harris over Smith's head. Pickett was at his best during the game-winning drive, completing five of six passes to march the Steelers downfield.
But throughout the game, it was the Steelers' running game that kept their offense going. In Week 14 in Pittsburgh, the Ravens rushed for 215 yards. But in the rematch, the Pittsburgh's run game dominated.
"Very disappointing," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Give them credit; they flipped the script, and that's not what we expect. We don't expect that at all. They got the job done [and] ran the ball very well against us."
The defense could have clearly used a breather down the stretch, but Baltimore was held to three points in the second half. The Ravens' two three-and-outs in the fourth quarter put their defense back on the field with little time to regroup, but defensive end Brent Urban didn't use that as an excuse.
"We need to play great fourth-quarter defense and close the game out," Urban said. "There's a standard here and we need to play to that."
The Ravens' post-game locker room was as somber as it has been all season. Most players dressed quickly and quietly, upset by what had just transpired.
Baltimore has clinched a playoff spot, but this defensive performance was not playoff worthy.
"To be honest, I'm really just embarrassed," defensive tackle Broderick Washington said. "I just feel like, myself, presently, I didn't play up to our standard. I've just got to go back to the drawing board and get better."