The Ravens seemed to have this one in hand.
A 10-point lead late in the first half and a seven-point lead with less than eight minutes to go. Third-string quarterback Charlie Batch playing for the Steelers one week after an atrocious effort. A reeling Pittsburgh team that seemed on its way to continuing its spiral because of turnovers and quality defense on the Ravens’ side.
And then the game turned on the Ravens.
Ineffective offense, bad decisions both in the turnover and timeout departments, and an inability to stop the Steelers in the second half flipped what could’ve been a victory that put Baltimore on the brink of a division title into the team’s first loss at M&T Bank Stadium since Dec. 5, 2010 - also against Pittsburgh.
The Ravens surrendered the final 10 points of the game over the last 7:24 to suffer a 23-20 defeat to Pittsburgh, snapping their league-best home winning streak at 15.
“One loss doesn’t define a team, but this is a loss we shouldn’t have had,” safety Bernard Pollard said. “You can say whatever you want to say, but I think for us as players, this sucks. This sucks to let a team off the hook. It’s just something that we’ve got to deal with until we play next week.”
But to see the home winning streak end?
“We’ve been good at it every year here,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You’re going to lose games in the National Football League. Week to week, you don’t want to lose any of them and you don’t feel good about it when you lose. But the bottom line is you have to be men about it. You have to say, ‘Hey, we lost a game and there’s nothing we can do about it.’ The only thing we can do about it is get ready to go this week and win next week.”
After racking up 191 yards on the way to taking a 13-6 lead into halftime, the Ravens were limited to 12 yards in the fourth quarter and 97 overall in the second half. Flacco had a difficult day, going 16-for-34 for 188 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also lost a fumble and took three sacks.
Baltimore’s defense compounded that by allowing 273 of the Steelers’ 366 yards in the second half. Pittsburgh dominated play down the stretch, led by Batch, who completed 25 of 36 attempts for 276 yards, a touchdown and an interception. It was the most passing yards by the 37-year-old since he eclipsed 400 for Detroit in 2001.
Was it surprising to see Batch lead the Steelers to their first victory over the Ravens with Ben Roethlisberger out because of injury or suspension in six tries?
“Not surprising at all - maybe a little bit,” safety Ed Reed said, “but Charlie Batch is a professional. I’ve been playing against him and he’s been on that team for a long time. He’s seen Baltimore a lot, a whole heck of a lot. With Ben Roethlisberger in your ear and having kind of four, maybe eight to 10 eyes on me - I know what I’m doing - he did some good ball movement, ball fakes, some pump fakes, that kind of movement a little bit. But at the same time, we’ve got to have better eyes.”
Pollard shared similar feelings about Batch.
“He’s a professional quarterback. He’s on the roster for a reason,” Pollard said. “He can make throws, but I look at it and we let some things get away. We should’ve stepped on their throat and choked them out when we had the chance, but we just did not do that.”
A major issue for the Ravens down the stretch was that they were out of timeouts. Flacco had to call one early in the second half because of confusion on offense, coach John Harbaugh cost the team one with an ill-advised challenge and the last one was charged when cornerback Chykie Brown suffered an injury with less than two minutes remaining.
Harbaugh took responsibility for the challenge flag to determine whether Batch fumbled or made an incomplete pass, as was ruled on the field. Batch’s arm was clearly moving forward.
“That was not a good decision by me,” he said. “That was not a good decision. I just felt he was lying on his back and winging it, and I thought maybe his arm wasn’t going forward when I saw it. Looking back at it, it wasn’t a good challenge.”
The other major miscue was linebacker Paul Kruger’s roughing the passer penalty just after the two-minute warning, a 15-yard infraction that advanced the Steelers to Baltimore’s 19-yard line.
“I had a clear shot at him. I just got my hands too high and shouldn’t have made it that close,” Kruger said. “It was a big mistake on my part for even making it a possible call, and I just can’t believe I put my teammates in that situation. There’s not much to say. I mean, it was a big mistake, and we have to make up for it.”
The Ravens were charged with the timeout for Brown’s injury at the end of that play, letting the Steelers manage the clock so Shaun Suisham’s 42-yard field goal could be a game-winner with no time remaining.
There were positives. Anquan Boldin had a big game with five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. Ray Rice ran 12 times for 78 yards and a score. Vonta Leach also made four grabs for 40 yards. Corey Graham made 11 tackles while Pollard added eight.
But instead of being 10-2, the Ravens walk away 9-3 in a tighter division race.
“We’ve got to finish. We didn’t do a good job of that,” Pollard said. “We let this game go. Right now, we’re still trying to figure out how, why and humble pie is on us and nobody likes to eat that.”