Five thoughts on the Ravens' 26-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday night at Heinz Field.
When the Steelers rallied from two touchdowns behind to tie the score at halftime, it was hard not to think we'd seen this movie before – and it was not a film that ended happily for the Ravens. But a strange thing happened in the second half. The Ravens took over. Dominated. Their defense shut down Ben Roethlisberger, forcing punts on four straight possessions, followed by a game-clinching turnover. Meanwhile, Baltimore's offense controlled the ball on long drives that ended with points. Slowly but steadily, the air came out of a crowd that eventually filed out quietly. In what feels like their biggest win since a 2014 playoff triumph on the same field, the Ravens were the more physical team on both sides of the ball, the more creative team on offense – the better team, period, actually by quite a bit. It's the signature win they needed to announce to the rest of the NFL, and perhaps to themselves, that indeed they're the real deal in 2018, with plenty to play for going forward.
It was the offense that set the tone early, but it was the defense that took control of the game in the second half, engineering a stunning turnaround. Roethlisberger completed 19 passes in the first half, but he managed just eight in the second half while being repeatedly denied on third downs. What happened? Start with the Ravens' secondary, which tightened up significantly after giving up more than 200 passing yards before halftime. Where was Antonio Brown? He disappeared. Where was Vance McDonald? He didn't catch a ball. Credit the cornerbacks most of all, as the pass rush struggled to apply steady pressure until late in the game. While Marlon Humphrey effectively shadowed Brown, Brandon Carr took the Steelers' other wideouts out of the game. The return of C.J. Mosley helped as much as you thought it would, as he had a team-high eight tackles and controlled the middle of the field. The fact that the Steelers couldn't run the ball at all freed the defense to focus on stopping the pass. "Make them one-dimensional and it's tough to beat us," safety Eric Weddle said.
With the Ravens trying to match Pittsburgh's explosiveness, I had a feeling we were going to see more of Lamar Jackson. Sure enough, he had four carries and was on the field repeatedly in important situations, including third downs. The Steelers didn't let him get loose, but his presence helped keep the Steelers guessing and limited their highly-ranked pass rush. And they were far from the only creative plays Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg unspooled. "Marty called a great game," quarterback Joe Flacco said. There was an inside reverse to receiver Chris Moore on a fourth-down play. There was Flacco repeatedly rolling out and finding tight ends open. There was Maxx Williams running a downfield route and making a big catch from the middle of the line – a play the Sunday Night Football crew said it had never seen before and wasn't sure was legal. On top of it all, the base offense brought its "A" game. Flacco, officially on a roll in 2018, passed for 363 yards. The rushing game was good for 96 yards. The new receivers all made plays. "We want to be creative and keep people off balance, but also be physical," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. On a night when 11 different Ravens caught passes and six different Ravens carried the ball, that mission was accomplished.
The Ravens' physical toughness was plainly evident, especially in the second half, but their mental toughness may have been the difference. Although they dominated early, they missed several chances to really take over. Michael Crabtree was open for an easy touchdown, but Flacco, throwing off his back foot while under duress, overthrew him. Then Alex Collins lost a fumble at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line just when Baltimore seemed ready to go up, 21-3. The Steelers promptly rallied to tie, a deflating interlude. It seemed the fumble had turned the game around. But the Ravens simply didn't let themselves succumb to that narrative. Flacco and the offense had established that they could move the ball steadily, a comforting thought. When the defense rose up in the second half, you could see the Ravens' overall confidence growing by the minute. Bottom line, they didn't blink after opening a door and letting the Steelers back into the game. Hard to argue with that kind of strong mental approach on the road.
Short takes: A huge play not to be forgotten was Brandon Carr knocking a touchdown catch out of JuJu Smith-Schuster's hands early in the second quarter … Tim White's first NFL reception and De'Lance Turner's first NFL carry came within seconds in the third quarter … After the Steelers beat safety blitzes for big gains early, Ravens Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale seemed to limit those calls … Raise your hand if you had the Ravens going 3-1 without suspended cornerback Jimmy Smith, who now returns … Collins didn't touch the ball for more than a quarter after his fumble, but he didn't stay in the doghouse and wound up leading the team with 11 carries and 42 rushing yards … The win ended a three-game losing streak for the Ravens against the Steelers … The Ravens have two more wins than the Steelers after four games. They'll take it.
Check out the beat shots from Sunday Night Football in Pittsburgh.