The Pittsburgh Steelers came into Baltimore on playoff life support Sunday afternoon and walked out of M&T Bank Stadium a winner in shocking fashion, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 23-20 on a Shaun Suisham 42-yard field goal as time expired. The loss snapped the Ravens 16-game home winning streak and also a streak of 12 consecutive victories within the AFC North in front of a announced crowd of 71,442.
An even more shocking part of this loss was the fact the Ravens were outplayed by the wily, 37-year old, 15-year veteran, 3rd string quarterback in Charlie Batch. Batch threw for 276 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens would have clinched a playoff berth for a 5th consecutive season, and that appeared to be the case with a 10-point lead going into the 4th quarter. Instead, the Ravens fall to 9-3, still two games up on Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in the division, but now the #3 seed in the conference after the New England Patriots locked up the AFC East title.
Joe Flacco brought his road woes home to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Flacco finished with 188 yards passing on 16 completions but made some of the worst decisions in quite some time. He threw a terrible interception late in the 2nd quarter, spinning out of a sack and lofting one into the waiting arms of Ryan Clark. It looked like Joe was attempting to throw it out of bounds, instead it stayed five yards in bounds for the pick.
Flacco was off with his receivers throughout the game. Flacco underthrew Torrey Smith on long throws that were touchdowns where Torrey Smith had beaten his man and had to play defender to make sure the ball wasn’t intercepted. A number of Flacco’s throws were too high as well, rushing to evade pressure, he nearly injured Smith as he was up-ended and landed awkwardly on his left shoulder.
Flacco never got into a comfortable rhythm, something he’s accustomed to playing in front of the home fans. The Steelers brought heat like only they can and Flacco got the happy feet going which disrupted his timing, or lack thereof, with his receivers. Flacco didn’t have much going on in terms of pocket awareness. Holding onto the football, Flacco was stripped by James Harrison which turned momentum the Steelers way. Just a game that Ravens fans and Flacco himself will want to forget.
Running Backs: B
Ray Rice gave the Ravens a 20-13 lead with a 34-yard touchdown run late in the 3rd quarter. He then ran the ball for 10 more yards on his next carry and never saw another touch the rest of the game. A strange way to handle your Pro Bowl running back, who saw just 13 touches on the afternoon and finished with 83 total yards. According to Sam Njoku of the Baltimore Examiner, Ray Rice was “fine with the carries, but also visibly frustrated.”
Bernard Pierce is a very nice complementary piece for the Ravens. He runs well within the numbers and is a solid runner who is hard to bring down. You have to wonder if Vonta Leach reached out to Casey Hampton to see how he’s feeling after the game because Leach absolutely crushed Hampton on a pancake block to spring Ray Rice for a nine-yard run.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: C
Quiet day from this bunch. When they weren’t being overthrown or underthrown by Flacco, they were dropping passes as well. Torrey Smith had his hands on a couple passes but couldn’t haul them in. He had better separation speed and showed an ability to get open in this game compared to the one in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
Anquan Boldin had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown beating corner back Cortez Allen for the score. The Ravens miss Ed Dickson and his ability to block in this game. Dennis Pitta was held to just a catch for 19 yards.
Offensive Line: D-
The Steelers pressuring the quarterback made the line look very, very average in this game. Flacco also didn’t help thing by holding onto the football too long. When the line wasn’t getting beaten on the ends with speed moves, they were getting beaten in the middle from the Steelers.
Michael Oher had problems with James Harrison who beat him and stripped the football from Flacco. Jah Reid sprung Ray Rice with a block that led to his 34-yard touchdown, but struggled again in pass protection as he was getting blown off his feet more than he should. The Ravens did a nice job of shielding Joe from pressure up the middle as it took both Matt Birk and Marshal Yanda all they had to contain Casey Hampton and Ziggy Hood.
Defensive Line: C-
The Ravens didn’t do a very good job of tackling in this game, as Jonathan Dwyer and Issac Redman made them pay, bouncing out of arm tackles to gain extra yardage. However, they didn’t get much pressure dialed up to get to Charlie Batch who took his time picking apart the secondary. Art Jones continues to show flashes of solid play, recording his 3rd sack of the season and four total tackles.
Pernell McPhee returned from injury, but had a quiet game. Terrence Cody had a pass defended and Haloti Ngata finished with just one assisted tackle. Very quiet game from these guys with a couple of injuries on the Steelers offensive line.
The Steelers attacked the middle of the field, spreading it out wide and finding Heath Miller and others for easy pass plays. The linebackers have to be able to drop back into coverage better and that wasn’t shown on Sunday. When the Steelers would get into the 2nd level on runs, the Ravens weren’t tackling well and it took a gang of guys to bring ball carriers down.
Without Dannell Ellerbe, linebackers Jameel McClain and Courtney Upshaw each had five tackles. Brendon Ayanbadejo got another start and finished with three tackles. Paul Kruger had a sack after he beat a double team and had enough time to get to Batch, but later, put the Steelers in great field position with a roughing the passer penalty that tacked on 15 extra yards on a play the Steelers had already converted for a first down.
Terrell Suggs had just two tackles in the game, but was taken to the lockerroom for an injury, the extent not known exactly yet. He left the field quickly, so one would think its not good.
This unit was aided on some plays because Charlie Batch doesn’t have the greatest accuracy in the history of the NFL. Communication errors in the secondary from Chykie Brown and Corey Graham led to Mike Wallace nearly hauling in a score. Cary Williams played strong in coverage, but the middle was open a good amount with the Steelers using some shorter routes and slants because the corners were playing off the ball.
Corey Graham had an interception off a trick play by the Steelers as Antonio Brown took a pitch, rolled to his left and threw back across the field into the waiting arms of Graham. He had 11 total tackles in the game, which led the team.
Ed Reed had the other interception from Batch, playing center field like he has for years. He basically shadowed the receiver and took away the under on the pick. Bernard Pollard was strong in run coverage, making some nice tackles. He finished with eight in the game.
Special Teams: B
The one thing missing in this game was the game-changing abilities of Jacoby Jones. The Steelers did a fine job of bottling him up on runs. The Ravens themselves covered well on kickoffs and punts, limiting big plays on the Steelers side. Justin Tucker connected on two more field goals, including one from 45 yards and now has made seven of his last eight field goals and 24-of-26 overall. Sam Koch had somewhat of an off-week in San Diego last week but bounced back, averaging 50.6 yards per punt.
Where’s the closing mentality from this team? They spent more time complaining to officials than the task at hand – putting the final nail in the Pittsburgh Steelers season – and it cost them in the end. The offensive game plan to start was strong, the Ravens started out passing on six straight opportunities and gained two first downs. Seemed like a lot of just misses with some throws or some runs, but the inexplicable use of Ray Rice in the 4th quarter will be debated all week long. Defensively, the Ravens just couldn’t get enough pressure up front to force Batch into some turnovers.
Just a tough game to digest if you’re a Ravens fan. Even with the lead, you could feel the momentum shift in the 2nd half. The Steelers wanted this game, the Ravens did not. For the second straight season, the Ravens were in a position to situate themselves nicely within the AFC, and for the second straight season, they’ll have to work themselves out of a jam.
The Ravens still find themselves in the drivers seat at 9-3 in terms of winning the AFC North, but a chance to bury the Steelers in a place where the Ravens do not lose often and solidify the #2 seed in the AFC was wasted. This loss will sting for a while, but it does not get any easier with the remaining four games the Ravens have left to play. The division itself is not locked up either as now both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are 7-5.
If there’s something to be said about John Harbaugh’s teams, its that they rise from resolve and find ways to get back on track. This season is no different, and next week they’ll travel to the Nation’s Capital to face Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins.
Matt Lund is a contributor for BaltimoreSportsReport.com and co-host of the BSR Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter @MattCLund.