Miscues doom Ravens in loss to Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH – In an epic display of self-destruction, the Baltimore Ravens' squandered a prime opportunity to clinch a return ticket to the postseason. The Ravens suffered a bitter 23-20 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

Despite the setback, the Ravens (8-7) still control their own destiny and can clinch a playoff berth to separate themselves from a jumbled AFC wild-card race provided they defeat the Oakland Raiders on the road next weekend to conclude the regular season. The NFL tiebreaker formula still favors the Ravens, who currently hold the sixth and final playoff berth.

"Missed opportunities, I think, are the moral of this story," cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "How much do I feel like it was a missed opportunity? On a scale of 1 to 10? Pretty high. .. It's a positive because we missed those opportunities and we're still in position to make a championship run."

Two Baltimore touchdowns were nullified by extremely costly penalties in the second half. And a third potential score was lost when sure-handed veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason inexplicably had a perfect Joe Flacco spiral clang off of his facemask in the corner of the end zone.

Eleven penalties were called against the Ravens for 113 yards, including cornerback Frank Walker's illegal-contact infraction that wiped out safety Tom Zbikowki's interception with two minutes to play. That ultimately allowed the defending Super Bowl champions to close out the game.

The Ravens could have clinched a playoff berth on Sunday with a win because of losses by the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Denver Broncos. However, they didn't hold up their end of the bargain.

According to league spokesman Greg Aiello, if the New York Jets (8-7), Ravens and Broncos (8-7) all win next week to each finish 9-7, the Jets would get the fifth playoff seed based on their superior record against common opponents over Baltimore and Denver.

And the Ravens would claim the sixth seed based on their 30-7 head-to-head win over the Broncos on Nov. 1.

An angry John Harbaugh during his postgame news conference refused to attribute the edge in penalties with the Steelers flagged just four times for 20 yards to what determined the final outcome.

"I think you guys can go to penalties if you want," he said. "You can point the finger at whatever you want, but we're going to Oakland and we're going to play our hearts out.

"You go out there and you fight. You go out there and you battle. We competed like crazy to try and win a football game the best we can. We fight our hearts out. We came up a little bit short."

No sequence defined the Ravens' bizarre aborted comeback than a long drive that began toward the end of the third quarter and ended in disappointment with a punt.

First, running back Willis McGahee's 16-yard touchdown run was taken away by wide receiver Kelley Washington's holding penalty.

"It was a clean block," Washington said. "The defensive back, he wasn't even trying to make a play. That's why the call was a tough situation. They make these calls and you have to deal with them. The defensive back didn't even want to be close to the play.

"Everybody was surprised. The safety, he was just trying to get locked up with me and he actually turned his back and threw his hands up. That's why he called it. It's their job to make the call. The defensive back wasn't anywhere near the play."

Harbaugh also took issue with the penalty.

"I think that call was very late," Harbaugh said. "It didn't seem like it affected the play."

After picking up a first down to get to the Steelers' 21-yard line, Mason didn't catch the football while all by himself on the first play of the fourth quarter.

It was a rare drop by a usually reliable player who caught seven passes for 77 yards.

"I don't think there's much you can say about a dropped ball, but you didn't catch it," Mason said. "It hit my facemask. That's one that I got to have, point-blank. I allowed an opportunity to slip away from my team and I can't allow that to happen.

"You just got to regroup and forget about it as quickly as possible and move on. It's difficult. Those guys count on me to bail them out and make a play when a play needs to be made, and I just didn't do it."

Still in field goal position following the drop, offensive tackle Oniel Cousins was nailed for personal foul for shoving well after the play was over.

"I thought the play was still going," Cousins said. "I was just trying to finish."

However, the 15-yarder knocked the Ravens out of range for kicker Billy Cundiff and forced Baltimore to punt.

"It cost us the game probably," Harbaugh said in reference to the entire drive. "We had a chance to get a touchdown and we didn't score. We had a chance to get a field goal. We'd be in overtime right now. That hurt us."

The Steelers took the lead for good on 38-yard Jeff Reed field goal with 5:25 remaining.

Under heavy pressure on the ensuing drive, Flacco was sacked and separated from the football by Steelers outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on 4th-and-10 at the Steelers' 38-yard line with rookie Ziggy Hood recovering the fumble. Cousins was beaten badly on the play on an inside rush.

Then, Zbikowski intercepted a deep pass intended for Mike Wallace and returned it 38 yards. However, Walker's penalty allowed Roethlisberger to kneel down three times to end the game.

"I don't know what happened," Walker said. "He ran into me."

The Ravens believe that Roethlisberger was outside of the pocket, which should have prevented an illegal-contact penalty.

"You want to talk about the illegal contact late in the game??" Harbaugh said. "Check what the rules said."

Despite Flacco's pair of touchdown passes to tight end Todd Heap of 30 and seven yards and Ray Rice breaking the Steelers' 33-game streak of not allowing an opposing runner to rush for 100 yards with 141 yards on 30 carries, the Ravens were unable to sweep the season series against their archrivals.

This marks the Ravens' ninth loss in their past 10 games against the Steelers.

The Ravens trailed at the half 20-10 after Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a 24-yard touchdown pass in the final minute when he juked strong safety Dawan Landry as Foxworth left Holmes uncovered on a blitz.

Later in the game, Foxworth blitzed on a pass to Holmes that led to Reed's game-winner.

"We were in a pressure, just a max blitz, so it was kind of understand," Foxworth said. "Holmes knew what he was running. We all knew what he was running. Ben pumped it and I made a break to go up and break up the play.

"Holmes started running downfield as if he was going vertical, so then I slowed down to cover it and then he got it. There's a lot of grass out there and it's a play that I honestly feel like I should've made, but I didn't. And that's kind of the moral of the story."

Flacco threw an interception to middle linebacker James Farrior on the third play of the game when he was hit by LaMarr Woodley to set up a Pittsburgh field goal.

After the Ravens tied the game up, a 49-yard Stefan Logan kickoff return preceded another Steelers field goal.

And a 21-yard shank from punter Sam Koch led to Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall's four-yard touchdown run to give Pittsburgh a 13-3 lead early in the second quarter.

Flacco answered with a 30-yard scoring toss to Heap.

During the third quarter, Foxworth returned an interception 19 yards for a touchdown. However, it was taken away due to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' block-in-the-back penalty. "Tough thing," Harbaugh said. "Suggs has got to do a little work on that."

Afterward in the visitors' locker room, Suggs declined interview requests.

The turnover led to Cundiff's 35-yard field goal to tie the game.

However, the Ravens weren't effective in the fourth quarter.

Did the penalties decide the game?

"It's irrelevant," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "You get tired of talking about what other men control. Why talk about it? We rebound and we come back next week."

Now, the Ravens find themselves in position again where they have to regroup against the Raiders (5-10) after losing their fifth game by six points or less this season.

Baltimore is undefeated this season against teams with losing records.

"I know how they'll respond," Harbaugh said. "We have our hands full, but I guarantee we can't wait for the opportunity. We'd play them right now if we could. We can't wait to go and get on that plane."


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