Behind Enemy Lines: Last goof costs the Ravens

December 06, 2010|By Ron Cook | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

So this is what you get when you put the two best teams in the AFC North on the same field on the same cold night for the benefit of a national prime-time audience:

The standard Steelers-Ravens riot, 60 frantic minutes of mayhem, few of them approaching actual, you know, competence.

This version included 18 penalties, three fumbles, seven sacks, and the strong suggestion that anyone wondering if the conference has a truly elite team should watch the New England Patriots-New York Jets game tonight.

It was evident almost from the start here Sunday night that this little hairpull would be lost rather than won by anyone; it was only a matter of who would goof most.

Ultimately, Baltimore lost it through an almost impossible oversight -- failing to account for Troy Polamalu. Let me just type that again because I can't really believe it myself. They failed to account for Troy Polamalu.

As they love to say on the broadcasts: Are you kiddin' me?

Polamalu flew around the Ravens' left edge late in the fourth quarter and blind-sided quarterback Joe Flacco, stripping the ball free at the Baltimore 28. LaMarr Woodley returned it to the 9, and Isaac Redman banged it home on a slant pass from Ben Roethlisberger for the Steelers' only touchdown, the one that made it 13-10 with 2:51 to play, you know, the one that won the game the Ravens lost.

"Basically, we gave the game away at the end," said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh.

Baltimore led, 10-3, into the fourth quarter and could have doomed the Steelers to a wild-card role in the postseason, but that all flipped on a play on which the Steelers actually were fooled.

"Troy was actually there in run pressure," said Mike Tomlin. "We anticipated them running the ball and we thought we could force a second-and-long. But that's Troy. A lot of guys would just run in there and sack the quarterback, but he sees the game a little differently."

The Ravens opened with an hilarious imitation of the penalty-riddled Steelers, of all things, getting flagged seven times in the first quarter for 38 yards.

But if anything was funnier than that shagginess, it was the play of the Pittsburgh secondary.

Tomlin wanted to play a conservative, field-position strategy with first place on the line, partly in deference to his quarterback's broken foot. So, rather than attempt a fourth-down conversion from the Ravens' 32 on the Steelers' second possession, Tomlin let Daniel Sepulveda punt it 24 yards to the 8, where Baltimore's Blind Side tackle Michael Oher promptly took it back to the 3 with a false-start penalty.

On third-and-15 from that spot, Steelers safety Ryan Clark was some 20 yards from the line of scrimmage, but before the snap, he sprinted forward and Ravens wideout Anquan Boldin bolted past him on his way to a 61-yard reception that sparked the only touchdown drive of the first half.

Flacco then found Boldin behind for 14 yards and a 7-0 lead.

On a night when both teams seemed fully capable of self-destruction, a Steelers drive that started in the third quarter and ended in the fourth best illustrated what this game was all about. It lasted nine minutes, 27 seconds and included part low comedy, part medium drama, and a sickening helmet-to-helmet collision between Steelers tight end Heath Miller and Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain that drew no flag.

It started with a Roethlisberger fumble under pressure from Terrell Suggs. The fumble was picked up behind Ben by 345-pound guard Chris Kemoeatu (don't ask what he was doing back there), and Kemoeatu ran with it until he was horse-collared to the ground. Again, no flag.

Fortunately for a Steelers offense that was generating next to nothing, Baltimore was holding on the play, giving the Steelers an automatic first down at the 32. When Baltimore stopped Rashard Mendenhall on a fourth-and-one at the Ravens; 45, a neutral-zone infraction against the defense resuscitated the drive again.

On the first down play, Roethlisberger threw in the right flat to Miller, who absorbed a brutally concussive hit by McClain and lay there for five frightening minutes before he walked. The Steelers lost another starter two plays later when right tackle Flozell Adams injured his right knee.

Roethlisberger's longest completion of the night, a scrambling 28-yard throw to Emmanuel Sanders put the ball at the 2, from where, of course, the offense threw it in reverse and settled for Shaun Suisham's sixth consecutive successful field-goal try, the one that made it 10-6 with 12:46 left. That lead looked like it would stand until Redman scored on the slant.

"Things looked gloomy," Hines Ward said in a fairly giddy locker room. "It's great how we came down here and stole a victory."

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

LaMarr Woodley fights off the Ravens' Ed Dickson after he recovered fumbled to set up Steelers touchdown late in the fourth quarter Sunday. Gene Collier: More articles by this author

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