Ravens Notebook Gameday
Ravens stun Steelers on last-minute Flacco to Smith touchdown
PITTSBURGH - The football kept ricocheting off the uncooperative hands of Baltimore Ravens rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, a frustrating sequence of miscues that threatened his confidence and the outcome of the game. When the former University of Maryland standout absolutely needed to haul in a critical pass, though, he delivered in the clutch. As did quarterback Joe Flacco, delivering a signature win over the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers. Smith gathered in a 26-yard touchdown pass from Flacco with eight seconds left in the game to boost the Ravens to a pivotal 23-20 victory Sunday night before 64,851 at Heinz Field as they swept the season series with the Steelers for the first time in five years.
A few plays prior to beating cornerback William Gay, a potential touchdown pass glanced off of Smith's hands. Smith dropped a total of four passes in the game. However, the second-round draft pick got it done when the game was at a critical juncture.
"After I dropped those couple of balls, I was down for a second," Smith said. "My teammates warned me, ‘Move on to the next play, you're going to make a big one.' For me, it was all about my teammates just having the confidence in me.
"For me to drop those couple of balls and to have that mess up his rhythm, that was the most frustrating part for me just letting Joe down. I made it a little more dramatic than it needed to be. For him to keep coming back to me, that meant a lot."
Although the Ravens squandered a two-touchdown advantage, they still managed to pull this game out because of Flacco's last-minute heroics. By doing so, the Ravens avoided a nearly disastrous defeat that would have unseated them from first-place in the AFC North to third in the division.
And Flacco was a huge factor in the triumph. The oft-criticized quarterback manufactured a 13-play, 92-yard drive to outduel Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, completing 28 of 47 passes for 300 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
Trailing by four points with two minutes and 24 seconds remaining, Flacco engineered the eighth fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drive of his career. To accomplish that feat, he marched the Ravens nearly the entire length of the football field.
"This Steelers-Ravens game is for men, it's a game for big men," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You got to shine bright if you want to win this game, and nobody shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game.
Before connecting with Smith to clinch the game, Flacco connected with Anquan Boldin for 21 yards, LaQuan Williams for 13 yards, Boldin for nine yards, Boldin for 10 yards, Boldin for 11 yards and endured drops by Smith and Boldin in Steelers territory.
Earlier in the drive, Flacco converted a 4th-and-1 from the Steelers' 49-yard line with a 10-yard pass to Boldin. "Maybe people will stop putting him down now," Boldin said. "We know what kind of quarterback we have. There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised."
Although Smith dropped a pass in the end zone and Boldin dropped a throw deep in Steelers territory, Flacco finished off the Steelers with his lob to the former Terrapin. "You take the second half of the Arizona game and this game, and there hasn't been a better quarterback in the NFL than Joe," running back Ray Rice said. The Ravens converted 14 of 21 third downs, establishing a new franchise record.
And Flacco did so by distributing the football to nine different targets and by continuing to show faith in a rookie in need of a confidence boost as "It's not my job to get down on Torrey, and it's not his job either," Flacco said. "I could tell he was feeling bad about dropping those few, but what are you going to do? If I don't go to him, I really don't have anywhere else to go. I have all the confidence in the world in these guys, especially Torrey. He's a playmaker." For the Ravens (6-2), defeating the Steelers (6-3) twice in their annual AFC North series keeps them in a tie for first place with the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) and drops Pittsburgh to third place. This marks the Ravens' second win in Pittsburgh, including the playoffs, during the Harbaugh era. The Ravens trounced the Steelers, 35-7, to launch the season in Baltimore.
Now, they've won a close contest where they were nearly vanquished by Roethlisberger again if not for Flacco and Smith's last-minute touchdown. "We can put the Steelers behind us now," Boldin said. "Nobody gave us a chance coming into tonight. Everybody thought the first game was a fluke. "So, we had to come in here and prove everybody wrong once again and prove that we were the better team. We want to continue to get better and win the AFC North." This was nearly another trademark Roethlisberger comeback as he rallied the Steelers back from a 16-6 deficit to pull ahead 20-16 behind 14 unanswered points.
Roethlisberger scrambled out of the pocket, rolling deftly to his right away from the jumble of bodies at the line of scrimmage. Escaping from the Ravens' grasp, Roethlisberger delivered a clutch strike to wide receiver Mike Wallace in the end zone.
The 25-yard touchdown pass was thrown exactly where it had to be, a few steps ahead of trailing cornerback Cary Williams and into the outstretched fingertips of Wallace. However, the Ravens expect to clash with the Steelers again this season in the playoffs. "This is the toughest place in the world to win," Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It's a big accomplishment. In my eyes, they are the still the defending AFC champs. They're still the team to beat. If we play Raven football through, when we see them again it'll be in our house.
"We swept them, but don't be fooled. We're going to have to see this team in January. We just positioned ourselves for them to have to come to M&T so we can do it."
The Steelers' final score was set up by a Flacco fumble forced by outside linebacker James Harrison and recovered by Gay. Roethlisberger completed 20 of 37 passes for 330 yards, one touchdown and one interception for an 86.1 passer rating.
Roethlisberger kept connecting downfield with speedy wide receiver Antonio Brown, hitting him five times for a game-high 109 receiving yards. The Ravens built a 16-6 lead after Rice busted into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown run. The score was set up by a huge defensive play by Suggs.
His interception of a short Roethlisberger pass set up the Ravens' 12-play, 47-yard drive capped by Rice's touchdown run.
"He was talking to the receivers too long," Suggs said. "Wallace was their No. 1, and he just gave him an extra look. So I said, ‘If you don't throw the screen, then so what?' If he does, then I have a chance to pick him off. I should have scored, but I didn't. It was a blessing." The Steelers issued a strong rebuttal, marching 95 yards on 11 plays before Rashard Mendenhall scored from one yard out immediately after a Roethlisberger touchdown run was overturned by instant replay. It was determined that Roethlisberger's right knee hit the ground before he reached the end zone. The Ravens had few answers for Harrison in his first game back from a broken orbital bone that had sidelined him for the past month. The intimidating former NFL Defensive Player of the Year sacked Flacco three times, including a forced fumble in the fourth quarter recovered by Gay.
Stout defense from both sides has traditionally typified this rivalry, and this game was no different.
By halftime, the Ravens had gained 176 yards to the Steelers' 133 yards. Rice rushed for only 26 yards on 12 carries in the first half with Mendenhall managing to gain only 18 yards on five carries. And Flacco connected on 11 of 20 passes for 144 yards by halftime with Roethlisberger hitting 7 of 15 throws for 115 yards.
Delivering a devastating hit, All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis knocked Steelers veteran wide receiver Hines Ward out of the game early in the second quarter.
The Steelers characterized the injury as a stinger, and Ward later returned to the sideline without his helmet. Ward got crushed after initially catching the football over the middle with Lewis' helmet making contact with Ward's helmet. No penalty was assessed on Lewis and the catch was overturned by an instant replay review, but the NFL is likely to consider fining the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year since it's a point of emphasis to protect defenseless receivers.
The Steelers turned the drive into points, though, as Shaun Suisham converted a 36-yard field goal to tie the game at 3-3. Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff pushed a 40-yard field goal attempt wide right in the first quarter, the same as his three previous missed kicks this season from 52, 51 and 51 yards. However, he would redeem himself at the end of the first half.
Cundiff broke a 6-6 deadlock by powering in a 51-yard field goal as the clock expired to boost the Ravens to a 9-6 lead at halftime. The Ravens benefited from a personal foul on hard-hitting Steelers safety Ryan Clark on the final drive of the half.
Clark was attempting to break up the pass intended for tight end Ed Dickson when his facemask made contact with Dickson. The penalty was announced, though, for hitting a defenseless receiver.
Rice bolted 76 yards to the end zone on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage, but a dubious holding penalty on Smith erased the touchdown. Although it was the closest either team would come to scoring a touchdown in the first half, the Ravens still managed to get on the scoreboard. The Ravens steadily marched down to the Steelers' one-yard line before Rice was stuffed on third down by defensive end Ziggy Hood and Clark. Then, Cundiff made his first of three field goals in the first half, connecting on an 18-yard chip shot to stake the Ravens to a 3-0 lead. One of the key plays on the 14-play, 75-yard drive was Smith drawing a pass interference penalty on Clark in the end zone. As rough a game as Smith had, he caught the game-winner and finished with five receptions for 71 yards.
"That's what football is all about," Harbaugh said. "That's what fighting the fire is all about. You walk through the fire, and come out untouched. You get purified by it. He walks off to the sideline and our guys do nothing but put their arms around him and tell him, 'You're going to make the play.' That's why we're a team." The Ravens intercepted Roethlisberger three times, sacking him four times and forced a franchise-record seven turnovers during the first meeting in September back in Baltimore. This time, the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player was masterful throughout with few mistakes. Flacco essentially matched Roethlisberger by peppering the Steelers' defense with short to intermediate throws.
Now, it's Flacco who has reversed the Ravens' fortunes after losing to the Steelers in the playoffs in two of the past three seasons. "Either we're going to be the same team from last year or we're going to show how we have grown up from last year," said Suggs when asked what he was thinking before the game-winning play. "We did just that." Harbaugh even borrowed a page from former President Theodore Roosevelt when asked about Flacco.
"It's not the critic who counts," Harbaugh said. "It's the man who is in the arena, whose face is covered with blood, sweat and dust. He will never be with those poor and timid souls who know no victory or defeat. So, that's what I say to all those people. They don't count."
Ravens notebook: Ben Grubbs returns from toe injury
Ayanbadejo suffers concussion
PITTSBURGH -- Sidelined for six consecutive games with a painful right turf toe, Baltimore Ravens left offensive guard Ben Grubbs made a successful return Sunday night. And the veteran blocker doesn't think he aggravated the injury. Grubbs took a pain-killing shot prior to the Ravens' 23-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, starting and making it through the entire game. "It did all right," Grubbs said. "It was sore a little bit, but with the pain shots I took I was able to play. I guess you can call it pushing off. I did all right. Yeah, I don't think it's any worse, but the shots haven't worn off. Talk to me Wednesday."
Grubbs said that the injury was extremely difficult to deal with over the past several weeks after straining ligaments in his toe against the Steelers in a 35-7 win to launch the season.
Five-time Pro Bowl center Andre Gurode had been starting in Grubbs' place. "It was the first actual injury where I couldn't go even if I wanted to," Grubbs said. "I didn't know what the future held for me. I prayed and my family prayed.
"With the help of our trainers and the help of time, the No. 1 healer, I was able to go this week. I really wasn't sure how I was going to make it through this game." The Ravens are now 2-0 against the Steelers with Grubbs in the lineup this year.
"It's a lot of responsibility to put on one person," Grubbs said. "We got the win. I'm 2-0 right now, both against Pittsburgh. It's a great win. It was a collective effort. "My teammates came through. No man was too small or too big. Everybody did their jobs." THIRD-DOWN STANDOUT: As the Ravens converted a franchise-record 14 of 21 third-down opportunities, tight end Dennis Pitta emerged as a key figure in that success. Pitta caught five passes for 46 yards from quarterback Joe Flacco with each one moving the chains on third down.
"It's all about making money on third down," Pitta said. "Those are critical plays." Joe did a great job of seeing the field and delivering the ball right on the money. We were able to take advantage of some mismatches out there." Pitta's longest reception was a 23-yarder on the Ravens' opening drive on 3rd-and-6. "Dennis is great," Flacco said. "Both those young tight ends are going to be a huge asset for us. It's like putting three wide receivers out there. They know how to run routes. They know how to get open. And he was big on a couple third downs tonight."
INJURY UPDATES: All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata started and registered two tackles, one for loss, despite a quadriceps injury that limited him last week in practice. "Just good enough to get the job done," Ngata said of the injury, which was heavily wrapped. Ngata said he was running on adrenaline. "It's just the excitement of the game," he said. "You don't feel it until the last second. It all comes rushing back." Meanwhile, Pro Bowl special-teams ace and reserve linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo suffered a mild concussion.
Ayanbadejo seemed alert after the game. "I think my brain should be all right," Ayanbadejo said. "I don't think I did too much damage."
Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward left the game with a stinger after absorbing a punishing helmet-to-helmet hit from All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis in the first half. Ward didn't return, and Lewis could draw a fine for the collision. Steelers safety Ryan Clark might be fined for his hit on Ravens tight end Ed Dickson. BEATING BIG BEN: The Ravens accomplished a weighty task by defeating Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
It wasn't easy as the former Super Bowl Most Valuable Player completed 20 of 37 passes for 330 yards, one touchdown and an interception for an 82.0 passer rating.
"That's what's so tough about him," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "You got to pressure him, you can't let him sit there. When you do pressure him and don't get to him, it's worse than letting him throw the ball. "He got out a few times We know that about him. It's still tough to play him. I'm happy the offense did what they did. We had a tough time with him in the second half. They were mixing up stuff on us really well."
Roethlisberger completed five passes to wide receiver Antonio Brown for a game-high 109 yards. He found tight end Heath Miller five times for 73 yards and wide receiver Mike Wallace for four passes for 68 yards, including a 25-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to briefly put the Steelers ahead.
"He's good, but it's not just him," free safety Ed Reed said. "It's their team. It's their offense. It's not just one guy out there making plays. He's got some good receivers. Ben is a hell of a player, but he's got a team." Cornerback Lardarius Webb, who praised Brown last week and said he was the superior player to Wallace, said the philosophy wasn't a case of a bend-but-don't break approach. "No, the strategy was to lock those guys down," Webb said. "They got open."
LINEUP LOOP: The Ravens deactivated wide receiver Lee Evans (left ankle), as he missed his sixth game in a row.
The Ravens also scratched linebackers Sergio Kindle and Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring, groin), tight end Kris Wilson, running back Anthony Allen (hamstring), wide receiver Tandon Doss and cornerback Chykie Brown (knee).
It's another negative sign for Kindle's status that he's constantly inactive even with the Ravens shorthanded for linebacker depth. Now, undrafted rookie linebacker Chavis Williams was active ahead of Kindle after being promoted from the practice squad Saturday when the Ravens cut cornerback Bryan McCann.
A former Alabama player, Williams played on special teams as he made his NFL debut. "It feels good, it feels real good," he said. "It makes you want to go out and work hard the next week."
The Steelers deactivated starting linebackers LaMarr Woodley (strained hamstring) and James Farrior (torn calf), center Doug Legursky (toe), nose guard Chris Hoke, wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (knee, mother's funeral), quarterback Dennis Dixon and offensive tackle Jamon Meredith. Former NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison returned from a broken orbital bone and wore a protective visor on his helmet. He recorded three sacks and a forced fumble. Larry Foote started for Farrior at inside linebacker, and Jason Worilds started in place of Woodley.
The Steelers placed punter Daniel Sepulveda on injured reserve with a knee injury on Saturday and signed punter Jeremy Kapinos.
CUNDIFF COMEBACK: Pro Bowl kicker Billy Cundiff connected on three of four field goals, booting a 51-yard kick through the uprights before halftime after a miss from 40 yards wide right in the first quarter.
All of Cundiff's misses this season have been wide right with previous errant kicks from 52, 51 and 51 yards. Cundiff had hit 32 field goals in a row from under 50 yards prior to Sunday night. For the season, Cundiff has made 20 of 24 attempts
QUICK HITS: Ravens coach John Harbaugh won his sixth of seven instant-replay challenges this year when a reception by Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward was overturned. ... The Ravens' game captains were Flacco, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Ayanbadejo.
Defensive ends Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee split a sack of Ben Roethlisberger. Kruger also recovered a fumble at the end of the game.
David Reed returned four kickoffs for 129 yards, averaging 32.3 yards. His long return was a 45-yard effort. ... Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, who was on the Ravens' radar briefly after he was cut by the Jets, caught three passes for 44 yards. ... Strong safety Bernard Pollard led the Ravens with seven tackles followed by six from Webb and five apiece from Johnson and Lewis.
BALTIMORE RAVENS' REPORT CARD
Joe Flacco engineered a signature victory, delivering the game-winning touchdown pass to rookie Torrey Smith in the final seconds. He didn't get flustered when Smith dropped accurate throws and kept going back to him. Orchestrating a short passing game well, Flacco completed 28 of 47 passes for 300 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for an 85.4 passer rating. He lost a fumble late in the game on a James Harrison sack that led to a Steelers touchdown.
Running back: C
Ray Rice had a decent game, but his 76-yard touchdown run was nullified due to a questionable holding penalty on rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith. Rice later scored the Ravens' first touchdown in the second half, but had a fairly quiet game overall with 43 yards on 18 carries and five receptions for 43 yards. Ricky Williams contributed well in relief of Rice with24 yards on nine carries and one reception for 11 yards. And fullback Vonta Leach had some big lead blocks.
Torrey Smith dropped four passes, but then caught a touchdown to win the game. He finished with five receptions for 71 yards. Anquan Boldin didn't create a lot of separation, but still managed to haul in seven receptions for 88 yards. Tight end Dennis Pitta kept the chains moving on third downs with five catches for 46 yards.
Offensive line: C
Ben Grubbs played well in his first game back from a right turf toe. However, they had few answers for Steelers star outside linebacker James Harrison. He sacked Joe Flacco three times, forcing a pivotal late fumble to set up the Steelers' game-winning touchdown. This time, Harrison won his battle with left tackle Bryant McKinnie. The Ravens had a hard time walling off beefy nose guard Casey Hampton.
Defensive line: B
They rarely pressured Ben Roethlisberger, sacking him once. Their work against the run was above average as Rashard Mendenhall gained only 52 yards on 13 carries, but it wasn't a dominant performance. Nose guard Terrence Cody had a strong game. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata played hurt, working through a quadriceps injury.
With the exception of outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' clutch interception in the second half of a short Ben Roethlisberger pass, they didn't make enough big plays. Jameel McClain dropped a potential interception. All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis' crushing hit knocked wide receiver Hines Ward out of the game.
They were a step behind Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown, and couldn't disrupt Ben Roethlisberger's timing when it mattered most. The Ravens did a solid job of keeping Wallace and Brown in front of them for the majority of the game. Brown caught five passes for 109 yards and Wallace finished with four catches for 68 yards and one score. Tight end Heath Miller beat the Ravens' safeties for five catches for 73 yards.
Special teams: B-minus
Billy Cundiff connected on 3 of 4 field goals, including a 51-yarder. David Reed averaged 31 yards per kickoff return. Punter Sam Koch averaged 45 yards on two punts. The kick coverage got better after allowing a touchdown on a punt return to Arizona Cardinals rookie Patrick Peterson in their last game.
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