There was supposed to be good news when the Pittsburgh Steelers took the field Sunday afternoon vs. the Baltimore Ravens. Franchise QB Ben Roethlisberger was named a starter after missing two weeks (including Bye week) recovering from a torn Meniscus. It’s a miracle that Big Ben’s injury wasn’t season-ending. In fact, he’s never had a season-ending injury and has played hurt many times during his 12-year career.
But if there’s any bad news to Big Ben’s return, it’s a fact that he has a history of playing rusty and starting slow, and those results usually led to Steeler losses. Such was the case Sunday as the Big Ben was indeed rusty and the Steelers was indeed flat as they fell 21-14 to their AFC North Division Rival, the Baltimore Ravens.
Don’t let that final score fool you: It wasn’t as close as it looked. It was 10-0 at halftime, and 21-0 at the end of the 3rd quarter. The Ravens didn’t have their ‘A’ game either, but that fact never matters when a team makes enough splash plays and scores enough TDs to win, which they did do. The Steelers didn’t, which makes that final score seem like a blowout.
Big Ben’s final stats weren’t too shabby if they had won the game. He passed for 264 yards, a TD, a rush TD and an interception, but it was obvious that it was the interception that hurt them the most. On the other side, Ravens QB Joe Flacco passed for 241 yards, a TD and an INT, but let it be known that it was his TD that hurt them the most, especially since it came from former Steelers WR Mike Wallace.
Wallace gave the Ravens their first points of the game when he took a slant pass from Flacco, stiff-armed Steelers S Mike Mitchell and raced down the sideline for a 95-yard TD, which was the second such feat in Wallace’s career. He also did the same for the Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals in 2011. That play is also a Ravens receiving record.
That play truly punched the Steelers in the gut as they were unable to respond on offense as Big Ben was unable to find his receivers and the running game was useless as RB Le’Veon Bell was only able to manage 32 yards on 14 carries. Historically, the Steelers have never been able to run on the Ravens, even dating back to the days of Jerome Bettis. Their keys to beating them have always been defense and key plays by Big Ben. On Sunday, the opposite took place.
Ravens K Justin Tucker extended their lead to 10-0 with a 49-yard FG before the end of the first half. In the second half, much of the same took place: Something from the Ravens and nothing from the Steelers. The Ravens Something took place when they continued to shut down the Steelers offense they were beating themselves, and they also added three more points off another Tucker FG, this time from 42 yards.
Since it was only 13-0, you would think it was still close enough for the Steelers offense to wake up, but unfortunately, it was not especially after what happened early in the 4th quarter. The Steelers were ready to punt, but when punter Jordan Berry attempted to punt the ball, it was blocked by the Ravens and recovered by WR Chris Moore, who ran 14 yards for the TD. Then Flacco found veteran WR Steve Smith for the 2-point conversion to extend their lead to 21-0.
Whether it was the fact that the Steelers woke up or whether the Ravens went into ‘garbage time,’ the Steelers then added 14 points to close the gap to 21-14 on two perfectly-executed drives by Big Ben, who was looking like the Big Ben of old. The first one came on a 23-yard TD pass to WR Antonio Brown and the second came on a 4-yard run by Big Ben. The Steelers then tried an onsides kick, but apparently, K Chris Boswell had trouble connecting with the ball as he swiped at it and barely missed it as it rolled into a yard. The refs threw flags, which penalized Boswell and gave the Ravens 15 yards as they took the field and took a knee, mercifully ending this game.
Steelers rookie WR Eli Rogers had a good game as he caught six passes for 103 yards, the first of his young career. Brown finished with seven catches for 85 yards and the TD. On defense, 38-yard old LB James Harrison had his best game of this season as he sacked Flacco 2 times. Fellow LBs Ryan Shazier and Anthony Chickillo combined on a sack and rookie CB Artie Burns intercepted his first pass of his young career.
For the Ravens, Wallace had an excellent day vs. his former team as he caught four passes for 124 yards and the 95-yard TD. DE Timmy Jernigan intercepted Big Ben’s pass as it was tipped. Both teams are now 4-4 and are tied for first in the AFC North. The Ravens ended their 4-game losing streak, and the Steelers have now lost 3 in a row. The Cincinnati Bengals can join that 4-4 party if they can get a win vs. the Washington Redskins Monday night.
Injuries: Although Big Ben was unscathed, the Steelers suffered two significant injuries: C Maurkice Pouncey missed the second half with a finger injury. WR Darius Heyward-Bey missed most the game with a right foot/ankle injury.
Ray’s take: To be honest, I got nothing; -which by coincidence, neither did the Steelers on Sunday. It’s truly been a long time (actually since the Eagles game) that I’ve seen a Steelers offense look so flat. I compared it to driving with a flat tire. That’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. Yes, Big Ben was rusty, but there’s truly something ‘off; with this team right now. They’re not looking prepare to face these teams, and it’s biting them in the rear. You would honestly think they’re humble enough not to take a team for granted (See Eagles, Dolphins). And yes, it’s a fact that the Ravens are a divisional game and that anything can happen, but if this were the 2013 or 2014 Steelers that played this year’s Ravens, they would’ve beaten them, in my opinion. And please don’t get me started on that pitiful onside kick attempt by Boswell. That summed up the Steelers day. I have always been a Mike Wallace fan since he was here. He looked pretty good out there as I knew he would when he finally joined a team with a good QB. He needed that in his life.
The Steelers will now head back home to welcome the hot 7-1 Dallas Cowboys next Sunday. The Cowboys are led by rookie Dak Prescott, who’s a leading NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year candidate. You can add him to the NFL MVP list as well.
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