If you ever needed to reverse the effects of your tryptophan coma, rewatching the last couple of minutes of Thursday night’s Steelers-Ravens game might do the trick.
A pretty normal, well-played contest went haywire as the hour hand approached midnight. The Ravens, who led 19-7 with less than 10 minutes remaining, were outscored 13-3 over the last 9:32 of the contest and had to use a heroic stand at the end to hold on for a 22-20 victory.
In a matter of three snaps on the Steelers’ final drive, they had two touchdown calls overturned on review before finally getting the ball to Jerricho Cotchery for a 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 to play.
Pittsburgh was a two-point conversion away from tying the Ravens, but Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t corral a pass from Ben Roethlisberger, letting it fall through his hands with cornerback Chykie Brown covering.
“I knew they were coming after the guy that was fresh off the bench,” Brown said. “This was the last play that was going to win the game, and I knew they were coming my way. I knew that I was on an island with him. He’s a really good receiver, but I had to make the play to win the game. ...
“I wasn’t going to let him be successful. I was going to take away his inside, play real hard on the inside, and make (Roethlisberger) throw it up top. I had a feeling by the way he was looking at Sanders that he was going to throw back shoulder, so I played patient. I didn’t go for the shake and I tried to get between him and the ball.”
And Brown did, leaving Pittsburgh with one more last-gasp opportunity - an onside kick. The ball didn’t go far enough for the Steelers to recover, and they grabbed it anyway, automatically giving the Ravens possession. Joe Flacco went into victory formation, and after two kneels, Baltimore had its second consecutive victory and third in four games.
The way the game was decided - with a goal line stand, keeping the Steelers out of the end zone on three straight plays from the 1 - reminded coach John Harbaugh of the Super Bowl finish against the 49ers. The only difference was Pittsburgh eventually managed to score before failing to come up with the tying two points.
“We called some of the same calls that we called in the Super Bowl, as a matter of fact,” Harbaugh said. “I thought our guys did a great job. They got us in a pick play there, where we didn’t play it the way we wanted to. I thought we should have had the play covered for the touchdown as well, but they did a great job on the two-point play. Chykie Brown coming in and covering it the way he did, I thought was really good.”
Even if the Steelers tied it there, linebacker Terrell Suggs said the defense felt good about where they stood.
“We weren’t too much worried about it,” Suggs said. “Even if they had converted the two points, our offense was clicking all night. So there was still enough time possibly to go down and make some things happen, and anytime you’ve got Jacoby (Jones) back there, you’ve got a good chance of success. We were not rattled at all.”
The Ravens seemed in control at one point, leading 19-7 after scoring on eight of their first nine possessions. But only one of those drives resulted in a touchdown, and Baltimore had to hold on for a two-point victory, making it the fifth consecutive game in the series decided by three points or fewer.
Flacco had a solid game, going 24-for-35 for 251 yards and a touchdown while Torrey Smith made six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
But Flacco showed extensive emotion - the baffled kind. The Ravens finished with 311 yards and moved consistently, but that only seemed to make him feel worse when he looked at the scoreboard.
“I was just frustrated, mostly,” Flacco said. “There were so many opportunities out there for us to score points and just win big and put the game away. We didn’t do it, and we left that to happen. That’s just frustrating. When you’re not converting and scoring touchdowns, you’re hoping that doesn’t happen, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Man, this is going to catch up to us.’ ...
“I thought we played pretty well tonight, to be honest with you. That’s why I was so frustrated. We did so many things really, really well and put ourselves in so many positions to put points on the board and put a lot on there tonight. Anytime you score 22 points, you basically kicked all field goals and you scored on a lot of drives. You didn’t punt the ball, you didn’t turn the ball over. We did so many things well. We were right there. That’s why I think it’s probably a little more animated and so frustrating, because we were just right there. You could taste it, and we just didn’t convert a lot. I’m honestly pretty happy with how we played tonight and how we performed. We’ve just got to get better at those little things that are going to get us over the edge.”
Kicker Justin Tucker had a lot to do with the Ravens being ahead, as he matched a team record with five field goals. He has now converted his last 27 straight attempts for the longest active streak in the NFL and the second-longest in franchise history.
It’s safe to say he’s in a bit of a groove.
“I do feel like I’m just hitting the ball well. I feel like I’m hitting my ball,” Tucker said. “I feel like I’ve been hitting my ball all season long, aside from one game, I had two that I didn’t like. But other than that, I feel like I’m hitting my ball, and as long as we have this continuity between snap/hold/kick that we have had over the last several weeks, we know we’re going to be coming back with points, no matter what.”
That all came together to provide the latest exciting entry in the Ravens-Steelers series. Ten of their last 12 meetings have been decided by three points or fewer, and the latest improved the Ravens’ record to 6-6 while the Steelers slipped a game back at 5-7.
The Ravens are a half-game ahead of the pack for the AFC’s second wild card with four games remaining, so Harbaugh feels pretty good about the Ravens’ playoff chances.
“I feel the same way I felt about them two weeks ago and four weeks ago, that we’re in control of our destiny,” he said. “It’s up to us to win games, and I’m proud of our guys. I’m proud of our guys for finding a way to win the last two games and finishing the way they have. What have we lost - five games - by the narrowest of margins, and those are the games that we need to find a way to win and we need to be able to do that. I feel like we’re getting there. I feel like we’re a really good football team. But you need to go out and prove it. You need to prove it every week.”
And it took a fun, exciting finish to prove it Thursday.
“You know, always Steelers-Ravens games are going to come down to that last minute, no matter what the score is throughout the whole game,” cornerback Lardarius Webb said. “In the end, it’s going to come down to one or two plays and it did.”
Said Harbaugh: “This is a classic. This is another classic Ravens-Steelers game, and these games just keep happening. I thought the last time we played them this year was a classic and this was better played. I thought both teams have improved quite a bit from the last time we played, and it was really a well-played game. ...
“That is a heck of a football team. Hard-fought, as always. A bunch of character on that side. It’s never finished, it’s never over when you play the Steelers. It’s never over when you play the Ravens. That’s why these games are so great. So it’s just an honor to be a part of a game like this, and to play against a team like that like we did.”
Note: The Ravens were held without a sack, snapping a streak of 22 straight games with at least one and 19 on a row with at least two. ... Wideout Brandon Stokley left the game with a knee injury while cornerback Jimmy Smith left in the final two minutes with a head injury.