Five thoughts on the Ravens' 22-20 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium:
Could Have Been A Blowout
For the first two-and-a-half quarters, the Ravens gave their best performance of the season – intense on offense, dominant on defense. They had the Steelers down, 13-0, and seemed poised to win this important game by a blowout. They couldn't finish what they started in one sense, as the Steelers took over and rallied with a defense that limited the Ravens to field goals instead of touchdowns and an offense that rolled to three touchdown drives led by Ben Roethlisberger. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, given the history of close games in this rivalry. In any case, the game came down to a single play, and the Ravens came up smiling when Emmanuel Sanders couldn't hold on to a pass from Roethlisberger on a two-point conversion, leaving Baltimore up by two. It would never have come down to that if the Ravens had been even slightly more effective in the red zone, (one TD in four trips), which left them somewhat frustrated, but the stakes were high and the Ravens got the result they wanted. Last month in Pittsburgh, these teams played another game that came down to one play, a long pass that set up a game-winning field goal for the Steelers. I would say the season split is an accurate measure of how these teams stack up.
Ravens Take High Road With Tomlin
For the most part, the Ravens took the high road, at least publicly, after Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin blatantly interfered with Jacoby Jones on Jones' 73-yard kickoff return in the third quarter. Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said, in essence, that these things happen. Jones essentially said coaches do what they have to do and he should have scored anyway. But Jones also said Tomlin was on the field – repeat, on the field – as he came down the sideline, and that he swerved because of Tomlin. Where was the flag for unsportsmanlike conduct? The refs swallowed their whistles on that one. Gulp! Here's hoping someone gets called out internally for choking on that call. Four days earlier at about the same spot on the same field, an assistant coach for the New York Jets was flagged after getting in a referee's way during a play. This was worse. Tomlin was actually on the field, getting in a player's way. Tomlin explained that he lost track of where he was on the sideline and did get too close. Yeah, whatever.
Special Teams Was The Difference
You could argue that special teams play was the difference in what wound up being a close game. Justin Tucker, on an otherworldly roll, made five straight field goal attempts, giving him 27 in a row. It was unfortunate for the Ravens that they kept settling for field goals, but Tucker never doubled their misery by blowing one. The chemistry between him, holder Sam Koch and snapper Morgan Cox is something to behold right now. And Tucker is benefiting, putting himself in the running for All-Pro honors in his second season. Also, Jones ran that kickoff back 73 yards and returned a pair of punts for 19 yards. That's great stuff from the Ravens. Meanwhile, the Steelers botched their only field-goal attempt because of a timing issue between the long snapper and holder. Then, with the Steelers needing to stage a successful onside kick to have a chance in the final minute, Shaun Suisham's attempt failed to travel 10 yards, effectively handing the Ravens the game.
Bad Final Offensive Play Call By Steelers
If I'm the Ravens, I'm thrilled with the Steelers' odd play-call on the failed two-point conversion. Roethlisberger had led his offense to three touchdowns in 22 minutes by hanging in the pocket, rolling out, extending plays and making things happen, frustrating the Ravens again and again with his playmaking. But with the game on the line, he took the snap and quickly got rid of the ball, aiming a back-shoulder toss at Sanders. So the ball was quickly out of the hands of the guy who had been frustrating the Ravens. Roethlisberger explained after the game that the play's drawback is that he has to quickly pick a side, and that at least one receiver on the other side was open. Whoops, bad for Pittsburgh, good for Baltimore. Roethlisberger also said he didn't make a great throw, which was true, although it was in Sanders' hands as the Ravens' Chykie Brown defended. I think a rollout, giving Roethlisberger more time and options, was the better call.
It's not a coincidence that Jacoby Jones has made huge plays in two straight games and the Ravens have won them both. When healthy, he gives them a game-breaking threat in so many areas … Whatever adjustments the Steelers made at halftime were effective. They had zero points in the first 37 minutes and then scored three touchdowns down the stretch … "Little" plays were crucial for the Ravens, such as guard Marshal Yanda recovering a Flacco fumble before one of Tucker's field goals; and Flacco hitting Torrey Smith for a 10-yard reception on third-and-12 to put them in range for Tucker's last kick, a 48-yarder … The Steelers ran a couple of wildcat plays but the Ravens never used it … The last time the Ravens were 6-6, they went 3-1 down the stretch and made the playoffs in 2009.