It all seemed like it was under control.
A 14-point lead, with all the momentum, and only 30 minutes from a spot in the AFC title game.
Where'd it go wrong? One word: turnovers.
It started with Ray Rice's fumble on the Ravens' first possession of the second half. It continued with Joe Flacco's floating pass to Todd Heap which was intercepted by safety Ryan Clark. It painfully kept coming with a botched snap between Matt Birk and Flacco, which the Steelers recovered.
Three turnovers on four possessions, all in a nine-minute span. Yikes.
Each time, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger turned the giveaways into points. Two touchdowns, a field goal and, just like that, the Steelers had the lead.
"We made too many mistakes in that third quarter and gave (the Steelers) the ball," Flacco said. "The biggest thing was the turnovers. We didn't play a perfect game, but we probably could have won without playing a perfect game if we hadn't have turned the ball over."
The guys on the offensive side of the ball are frustrated with the turnovers. But even a couple defensive players voiced their frustration with the offense giving the ball up deep in Ravens territory. All three of the giveaways handed the Steelers the ball within the Baltimore 25-yard line, which left a couple of the Ravens' big-name linebackers shaking their heads.
"Short field. It ain't just Ben," Terrell Suggs said. "If you look in the wild card game (against the Chiefs), what won us the game? Turnovers. Short field. We didn't do it once, we didn't do it twice, we did it three times. Short field. If I was at quarterback, I could make you pay, and (Roethlisberger) did. Two-time Super Bowl winner. You don't want to give him a short field. But, oh well."
Added Ray Lewis: "The number one thing you cannot do is turn the ball over in the red zone. And that will never change in this business, ever. It's too much of a momentum swing. You turn the ball over three times in the red zone on our side of the field? We were good. We went out and we played our hearts out today."
The guys responsible for the turnovers all owned up.
Rice knows his fumble was the big momentum changer, and he lamented the fact that he put the ball on the turf for the first time all season. The third-year back hadn't fumbled in his previous 17 games during the 2010 campaign.
"I'm not sure who hit it out or whatever, but that's totally my fault," Rice said. "I can take that. I'm not a fumbler, but in a situation like that I've got to be more careful. I was just trying to make a play."
Flacco was involved in the next two turnovers, an interception by Clark on a deep ball intended for Heap and a botched snap on which Birk blamed himself for snapping the ball early.
"I thought Todd was going to get over the top of that guy, but the throw was probably a little too much over the shoulder so it didn't give him a chance to make a play on the ball," Flacco said of the pick. "The ball was just in the air so long. I didn't anticipate Clark being able to get over there."
In the end, the three turnovers and the 17 points they resulted in were the difference, both on the scoreboard and in the momentum department.
"They've got some playmakers on offense and you give them a short field like that, it's going to be tough," head coach John Harbaugh said. "That's how they got back in the game. We want to avoid that, we've talked about that. It's not something we want to do against this team, and obviously we've done it too often. Whenever we've lost it's usually been the result of something like that."
It was again today.