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PITTSBURGH-In the game of football, they say you’re only ‘one play away’ from a win or a loss. For the Pittsburgh Steelers, they were basically one play away from both and it rested on the hands of their 3rd-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Shuster.
In their first Overtime game in 3 seasons, the Steelers had just forced the Baltimore Ravens to punt the ball with over 6 minutes left. Returner Ryan Switzer returned the punt 5 yards to the Steelers 25. Backup quarterback Devlin Hodges found Smith-Shuster down the sideline and as he turned with the ball, Ravens defender Marlon Humphries punched the ball out of the Steeler receiver’s hands with such force, that it bounced 5 yards, Humphries chased the ball and recovered it for Baltimore.
If Smith-Shuster holds onto it, the Steelers advance towards a potential game-winning FG. Instead, the Ravens capitalized, and it was Justin Tucker, not Chris Boswell who kicked the game-winning points, as the Ravens prevailed 26-23 in front of 64,037 shell-shocked Heinz Field fans. The Steelers fall to 1-4 on the season and to say they’re in trouble, is an understatement.
The 1976 Steelers team started the season 1-4 after losing their quarterback (Terry Bradshaw), but they rebounded and finished 10-4 and advanced to the AFC Championship Game. Make no mistake, the 2019 Steelers aren’t the ’76 Steelers. And their focus shouldn’t be on the playoffs, rather just trying to win their next game.
“Not enough play-making on our part.” Said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin “You also have to tip your cap to the Ravens. They made the necessary plays, particularly Marlon Humphrey. That is a big-time play he made on overtime punching that ball out.”
The outcome of this game didn’t tell the entire story for the Steelers as they overcame bad decisions, missed opportunities and another injured quarterback to nearly beat the Ravens. Mason Rudolph left the game in the 3rd quarter after sustaining a hit by the Ravens Earl Thomas that resulted in a concussion, him leaving the game and getting evaluated at a nearby hospital.
In came undrafted free agent Devlin Hodges who went 7-9 for 68 yards and helped the Steelers get a 20-17 lead when James Conner scored a 1-yard touchdown. Hodges would lead the Steelers to another go-ahead score when Boswell’s FG gave them a 23-20 lead with over 2 minutes to play. But it wasn’t enough as the Ravens and Lamar Jackson and their final regulation drive resulted in a 48-yard FG by Tucker to tie the game at 23.
When asked what the key to his game was, Hodges replied “Just playing football. I feel like I know the offense. I just went out there and executed when depending on what play is called.”
Both teams fought hard in this game, but neither were perfect as the Ravens had 3 turnovers off 3 Jackson interceptions and the Steelers Jaylen Samuels threw one and the Smith-Shuster fumble. Jackson and the Ravens looked untouchable in the first half as they stormed to a 17-7 lead. Although the Steelers didn’t lose heart, they were only able to settle for FGs as they trailed the Ravens 17-13 at halftime.
“We had our chances in the game.” Said Tomlin “I thought that the first half of the game was a field position game, really kind of controlled by their special teams. There were some turnovers in the first half, but both defenses were stiff. We had a couple of turnovers and got 6 points. I think they had one and got 3.”
Prior to his injury, Rudolph passed for 131 yards and a touchdown pass to Smith-Shuster, who finished with 7 catches for 75 yards. Fellow receiver James Washington had 53 yards on 3 receptions before leaving the game with an injured shoulder.
On defense the Steelers sacked Jackson 5 times with Vince Williams, Bud Dupree, TJ Watt, Javon Hargrave and Cameron Heyward getting one apiece and Kam Kelly, Mike Hilton and Rookie Devin Bush getting the interceptions, but it just wasn’t enough for the Steelers. Boswell finished the game with 3 FGs.
For the Ravens, Jackson finished with 161 yard passing and a TD which went to rookie Marquise Brown. That was their only touchdown of the game. The other points came off the foot of Tucker, who kicked 4 field goals, including the game-winner.
“I was a little nervous about the first half of the kick.” Said Tucker on the winning kick “I think it was starting straight at that upright.”
So now the Steelers must find a way to put this loss behind them as they prepare for the LA Chargers next Sunday night. Their hope is that despite the pain of losing this game, it won’t result in a loss season that’s already been hit with its share of adversity.
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