Long gone are the days of the classic Steelers-Ravens slugfests with the names you knew. Two proud franchises, once embedded at the top of the AFC, have now considerably slowed, and given way to a bevy of other elite teams. The history of this brutal clash of the titans, once boasting names like James Harrison, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis, has now hit its next chapter. A number of the marquee names have moved on, and both teams have slid back to reality, as their running games’ have struggled and their defenses aged. Entering week 7, both the Ravens (3-3) and the Steelers (1-4) were looking to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card. But just because the names on the back of the jerseys have changed, that doesn’t mean the intensity and the hatred would abate.
The Steelers struck first on a 10 play drive that elapsed over 6 minutes, and they never looked back. Points came at a premium, (as they always do in Ravens-Steelers battles) but the Steelers were able to move the ball successfully for most of the day. The Todd Haley offense (for once) didn’t come back to bite us where the sun doesn’t shine, as Big Ben got the ball out of hands quickly, executing a number of short slants and quick comeback routes. Despite the only Steelers touchdown of the day coming on the second drive 3 yard shovel-pass to Heath Miller, there were a number of contributors. Antonio Brown, who has caught fire of late (30 receptions and over 300 yards in the past 3 weeks), only had 6 catches for 50 this week, but that included 2 clutch first-down catches on the games’ penultimate drive.
The Steelers also saw one of their biggest differences from previous weeks come in the form of rookie RB Le’veon Bell, who notched 93 yards on 19 carries, the best game of his uber-young career. Displaying patience and quick footwork, Bell opened up the Steelers offense for several deep shots down field. But the Ravens admirably kept it close, as their defense bent, but didn’t break. The game was never more than 7 points apart, as the teams traded field goals for the larger part of the afternoon (7 field goals in total). Terrell Suggs continues his Steeler-killing ways as he led his team in tackles (6) and also got a sack on Roethlisberger. But as good as the defenses played, the Ravens offense couldn’t get it on track. Joe Flacco played a quietly efficient game (24/34, 215, 1TD), but couldn’t sustain any drives until late in the 4th. Ray Rice, who’s been having his worst season of his All-Pro career, only managed 45 yards on 15 carries.
But with the Steelers up 13-6 midway through the final quarter, the Ravens valiantly fought back, hitting a 41 yard pass play to star WR Torrey Smith (who led all receivers with 61 yards on the day). Then Flacco earned a small portion of his record-setting contract, hitting TE Dallas Clark from 1 yard out, to lock the score at 16-16. The Steelers answered with a kickoff return by Emmanuel Sanders of 44 yards (initially, he ran it all the way back for a TD but was correctly called for stepping out of bounds). Roethlisberger had a game-manager type of day (17/23, 160, 1TD), but led Pittsburgh on a 7 play, 39 yard drive in the final 1:58, leading to the walk-off Shaun Suisham FG from 42 yards out, as the Steelers win, 19-16.
The Steelers not only had their biggest running output of the year, but also have lead the turnover differential in the last two weeks at a combined +1, when they were near the bottom of the league during their 4 game losing streak. Roethlisberger, who had been in the top 5 players with turnovers committed, hasn’t given the ball up in the last 2 games. Future hall-of-fame Safety Troy Polamalu has found his fountain of youth with another excellent game, diving over piles with his reckless abandon style that Steelers fans have come to know and love. The LB core of Pittsburgh was once again its defensive strength, as Timmons led the way in tackles (12) and Woodley notched another sack, while fill-ins Jason Worlds and rookie Vince Williams made a few critical pressures.
Pittsburgh has a lot of things to improve on to get back out of the 0-4 hole they dug themselves, but running and defense is a formula they are all too familiar with. They now boast two straight wins over potential AFC Wild Card contenders and head into a paltry Oakland match-up. The lack of standout talent and O-Line injuries have been a red flag all year for the black and gold, but with the Browns and Ravens headed downhill, and the Bengals ensconced in consistent close games looking very beatable, this comeback story in steel-town may have a few more chapters. Until the next opening kickoff, valued readers…