I'm back in good ol' Baltimore after a long day of traveling, and it appears that despite all the broken hearts throughout the mid-Atlantic region, the sun did indeed rise this morning here in Maryland.
I had originally been booked for a 6:30 p.m. flight out of Pittsburgh this evening, but didn't feel like waiting around the Steel City all day, so I bummed a ride back with The Carroll County Times' Aaron Wilson and the Associated Press' Dave Ginsburg.
One of the many Ravens-centric topics we discussed on the four-plus-hour drive back was the key third-and-19 play late in the fourth quarter of last night's game which saw the Steelers pick up 58 yards, setting them up for the game-winning touchdown. The play, I'm sure, has gotten a lot of attention here in the Baltimore area today, not just because it happened, but because of how it happened.
The Ravens rushed just three defenders on the play and dropped eight into coverage, giving quarterback Ben Roethlisberger time to look down the field. Little-known wide receiver Antonio Brown (who had made just 16 catches for 167 yards all season) turned on the jets, burned speedy cornerback Lardarius Webb down the right sideline, and hauled in a perfectly thrown Roethlisberger pass for the game-changing reception.
Before I give my take on the defensive play call by coordinator Greg Mattison, here are head coach John Harbaugh's thoughts on the decision to rush three instead of bringing more pressure at Roethlisberger:
"That ball would have been out either way," Harbaugh said. "That was a pretty quick throw. I don't think it would have mattered how many guys we brought in that particular situation. We could have brought more and moved the ball out quicker, but you'd never do that in that situation. I thought we had good pressure. We had six sacks. We had a bunch of knockdowns. They had good pressure the whole game.
"I just think they made a great play over top. It was a great throw; they ran a nice route, got behind us obviously and made a play. It's going to happen sometimes."
On one hand, I agree with Harbaugh in the respect that the defensive line had been getting good pressure all game, and the coaches might have felt that they could get enough of a push with three down lineman that they could afford to drop eight. On the other hand, bringing pressure at Roethlisberger would have forced him to make a hurried throw, it might not have given Brown time to fully run his route, and, at the very least, Roethlisberger's throwing lanes would have been compromised and he probably wouldn't have been able to completely step into his throw.
But let me refer to postgame comments made by linebacker Terrell Suggs, who said that he had no problem with the decision to rush three in that situation.
"That's been our philosophy all year: don't let the ball get thrown over your head," Suggs said. "It's a prevent defense. It's a third-and-19. You can give up 18. Get off the field, and the offense has an opportunity to win the game."
Suggs said it perfectly. There is no reason why a receiver should be open past the sticks when you drop eight defenders into coverage. Let the Steelers have a 12-yard gain. Let them have 18. But you cannot, under any circumstances, give up a big play in that situation.
Yes, the play call might not have been ideal. But the execution was horrific, and that's why the Steelers were able to convert on the play.
After the game, Webb said that he wasn't expecting safety help over the top, but that he simply blew the coverage by letting Brown get behind him.
"He just outran me, man," said Webb, a frustrated smile creeping across his face. "I'm not supposed to let him get behind me and he did. He made a good throw. Now I'm just trying to move on from it."
A 58-yard gain on third-and-19 with the season on the line might not be so easy to move on from.