A Steelers-Ravens AFC North matchup always has its share of crushing blows, crucial conflict and late-game drama, even with nothing at stake. Thanksgiving night was no different, but everything was intensified with both teams fighting for their playoff lives.
The hits were a bit harder, the uniforms a bit bloodier than usual and every play seemed to have extreme consequences.
The Ravens and Steelers both entered the game at 5-6. After the dust cleared and the injury list piled up, the Ravens' tough 22-20 victory provided B-More (6-6) with its first winning streak since September, pushing the defending Super Bowl champions ahead of the Steelers (5-7) and four other teams in the race for the final wild-card slot in the AFC. The championship whip that Ravens QB Joe Flacco was pushing last season has resembled a broke down Jalopy at times. The Ravens want to win, but this season is one of obvious transition as they figure out how to close games without Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to lead them.
"We're in control of our destiny," said Ravens HC John Harbaugh . "I feel like we're a really good football team; we need to go out and prove it."
The Pittsburgh offense was slow-motion until desperation time in the fourth quarter. Down 19-7, Big Ben Roethlisberger (28 for 44 for 257 yards and two TDs) mounted a 60-yard TD drive, capped by a 1-yard TD run to cut it to 19-14 with 9:32 to go. It was only the second rushing TD allowed by the Ravens this season, and it set the stage for an exciting finish. As good as the Ravens’ run defense is, the fact that Baltimore didn’t get a sack or force a turnover allowed the scrappy Steelers to hang around.
After Pittsburgh scored on Jerricho Cotchery's 1-yard TD grab to make it 22-20, Roethlisberger's 2-point conversion was dropped by Emmanuel “Butter Fingers” Sanders. It was a tough way for the Steelers to end a contest in which they fought back only to lose on a simple case of failed execution.
"Ben gave me a good ball," Sanders said. "It hit my hands, and I've got to make the play. It's not on him. It's on me."
Neither team’s offense was flexing much explosion. Both defenses were playing smash-mouth, AFC North war-ball, but the Ravens had the best kicker on the field in Justin Tucker, whose five field goals were the difference in the game. They also had the fast and flashy Jacoby Jones, whose 53 yards receiving and two kickoff returns for 102 yards boosted the Ravens offense. These cats had the two-man slam going against Pittsburgh, and it was only fitting that they got to eat the post game turkey.
Jones also had a 73-yard kickoff return during the game, that may have gone for a score had Mike Tomlin not positioned himself so close to the sideline, which set up a 38-yard field goal by Tucker to give B-More a 16-7 lead at the time. Roethlisberger wasn’t spectacular, but he weathered the storm and mounted a 79-yard drive to set the stage for the crazy finish.
There’s still four games left to a season that's as unpredictable as Kanye West’s behavior. Pittsburgh isn’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, but with Cincinnati leading the division at 7-4, the clock is ticking and Tomlin knows it.