Baltimore will most certainly live up to its Charm City billing for at least the next week or so after the Ravens stunned the Steelers, 23-20, on Sunday night -- a win that gives them their first series sweep of their AFC North rivals in the John Harbaugh-Joe Flacco era and the franchise's first since 2006.
As is usually the case in the NFL’s best rivalry, the second half was a rollercoaster ride, one that saw the Ravens blow a 10-point lead before taking it back thanks to Flacco’s late-game heroics and a little redemption for rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith. Here are my quick-hit thoughts after the thrilling win.
1. Joe Flacco did it again. Twice. In the 2010 regular season, Flacco led the Ravens to a comeback win at Heinz Field. This time around, he did it against Ben Roethlisberger and with an even greater degree of difficulty. He led the Ravens 92 yards in a little over two minutes, and he wasn’t fazed by a pair of drops from Smith and Anquan Boldin. The whiff by Smith looked like a back-breaker, with the former Terp dropping his fourth pass of the night -- a beautiful 37-yard rainbow -- in the end zone. But Flacco came back to Smith with eight seconds left and the rookie didn’t let that one slip out of his grasp. Ballgame.
2. That fourth-quarter fumble by Flacco almost spelled doom -- those fumbles have become a disturbing trend -- but it was the only major mistake by the fourth-year QB, who completed 28 of his 47 attempts for 300 yards and that touchdown. They say quarterbacks earn their money on third down -- they do say that, right, or am I just delirious since it’s after midnight? -- and Flacco certainly earned his paycheck Sunday night. The Ravens were 14-for-21 on third down. Many of those were from way downtown.
3. Redemption is sweet for Smith, who turned out to be the playmaker the Ravens had hoped would turn the tables in this rivalry when they selected him in April’s draft. Now go hit the JUGS machine, kid.
4. The Ravens have their flaws. There’s no doubt about that. But they showed championship-caliber resolve in this victory. They saw Ray Rice’s long touchdown run at the start of the game get called back. They left points on the board when Billy Cundiff missed an early field goal. They squandered another double-digit lead to the Steelers. But they never quit -- even though some of their fans might have.
5. Terrell Suggs didn’t bring the sizzle on the pass rush. None of his teammates did, either, which is why the Ravens saw their second-half lead go poof. You can’t ask your secondary to hold up when an elite quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger has all day to find fleet-footed receivers like Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown. Sorry to sound like John Harbaugh here, but I’m going to tip my hat to Pittsburgh’s offensive line, which was excellent in pass protection. I’m a big fan of Chuck Pagano, and I choose to look at the big picture when it comes to his defense. It has been pretty damn good through eight games.
6. One more thing about Terrell Suggs. His crafty interception of Roethlisberger in the third quarter will get lost in this one, but it stopped what would have been a Steelers scoring drive and swung the momentum back to the Ravens, who scored on the ensuring drive. If the Steelers had gotten seven points there to seize the lead, who knows how this game might have turned out.
7. James Harrison had three sacks and forced a fumble in his return to the field. What a mean man.
8. Ed Dickson has outshined fellow second-year tight end Dennis Pitta so far in their young careers, but Pitta was instrumental in Sunday’s victory. Pitta had five catches for 46 yards, and his first four catches all moved the chains on third down. By the way, Dickson added two catches for eight yards.
9. Cary Williams played a heck of a game, and Lardarius Webb played pretty well, too, given how much time Roethlisberger had in the pocket. The Ravens kept Wallace in check for most of the game, through Brown had 109 receiving yards. Jimmy Smith will start eventually, but he is going to have to earn it given how reliable those two cornerbacks have been in the first half of the season.
10. I’ve always wanted to cover a playoff game in Baltimore. Now that the Ravens have taken two of two from the Steelers, there’s no reason they shouldn’t host one at M&T Bank Stadium in January. They still have to handle their business from here on out, but the toughest task is now behind them.