Notes From An Instant NFL Classic

Daley Lolley filed this notebook off a classic football game from Baltimore late Thanksgiving night:

Now you know how Ravens fans felt when the Steelers beat them twice in the AFC playoffs, ripping their hearts out as Pittsburgh marched on to the Super Bowl.

These Ravens aren't heading to another Super Bowl, but the feeling had to be pretty close to what was being felt in the Steelers' locker room.

There wasn't a lot to be thankful for on this Thanksgiving day.

Or maybe there was.

This was a great, great football game, one that will be talked about for a number of reasons for a long time to come, regardless of the outcome.

You want drama?

This game had plenty of it, with the Steelers storming back from deficits of 13-0 and 19-7 to cut the lead to 22-20 with just over a minute remaining on drive that saw the Steelers score three times, only to have two overruled upon review.

Or, how about the Steelers' attempt to tie the game with a two-point conversion, running the same play on which they had just scored the game-tying touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 1? Baltimore cornerback Chykie Brown appeared to faceguard Pittsburgh receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

If that wasn't enough, there was also Mike Tomlin's near tackle of Baltimore return man Jacoby Jones as he watched Jones break through his coverage unit on the Jumbotron.

Or maybe you want game-changing plays?

Joe Flacco and Torrey Smith had a big one early, connecting for a 54-yard gain to the Pittsburgh 1 to set up Baltimore's lone touchdown in the game.

And then there was Jones' 73-yard return to answer Pittsburgh's first score.

The Steelers had some as well, both good and bad.

They botched a field goal attempt in the first half on a play that ended with placekicker Shaun Suisham running for his life before being tackled for a 12-yard loss.

But the offense also produced some big-time plays to get back into it, most notably a 43-yard run by rookie running back Le'Veon Bell to set up the Steelers' first touchdown, and a screen pass to Bell on second-and-24 that went for 29 yards to set up Pittsburgh's final score.

"Maybe it's because it just happened, and it's fresh in our memory that there are more memorable, but this is a classic," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "This is another classic Ravens-Steelers game. These games just keep happening. I thought the last time we played them this year was a classic, but this was better played. I thought both teams have improved quite a bit since the last time we played, and it was really a well-played game."

The Steelers don't want any moral victories or to be the main section of anyone's highlight film - though that's surely to be the case for several teams.

Now at 5-7, four days after climbing back into muddled AFC playoff picture, the Steelers saw their road to the postseason become much rockier.

With four games remaining, the Steelers might need to win their final four games to have a shot. Three of those games are at home against AFC opponents. The fourth is a matchup two days before Christmas at Green Bay.

Then again, the way things have gone in the AFC this season, they might be able to go 3-1 and sneak in.

"We've felt we've had to win out for a while," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. "So we're going to focus on the next game."

That's all the Steelers can do. But this one is going to hurt for a while.

@ Baltimore had only allowed three touchdowns at home all season. The Steelers scored three in the final 22 minutes to nearly tie the game.

@ Baltimore had a streak of 19 consecutive games with at least two sacks. They had none in this game, the second consecutive game the Steelers' much-maligned offensive line has not given one up.

Terrell Suggs, Baltimore's outspoken linebacker who had 14.5 sacks in 19 regular-season games against the Steelers (five more in postseason), not only didn't get a sack in this game, he had just one tackle.

@ Bell, the Steelers' second-round draft pick, had the breakout game everyone had been waiting for, putting up 136 yards of total offense and scoring the first rushing touchdown allowed by the Ravens at home, and just the second all season.

If you're looking for a huge silver lining, Bell has now had his two best games against the Ravens this season - he had a season-high 93 yards in the first matchup.

Bell was knocked out of this game while scoring what should have been a second touchdown. I understand the NFL's lost helmet rule, but in that case nobody is telling the players to stop hitting, even though the play by rule is "dead." When the player is falling to the ground, the ball should be spotted where he lands, not where his helmet came off.

But I digress.

These are the kind of games the Steelers had in mind when they drafted Bell. And he's performed well in them.

@ Resident Michigan State expert Mike Prisuta says that Bell did not suffer any concussions in college, so there's some hope that the rookie will recover quickly from this one.

You never know with concussions, though, and that one looked every bit as bad as the one Heath Miller suffered in Baltimore a few years ago.

@ The Steelers' red-zone woes have been well-documented, but they scored on all three of their trips inside the 20 against the Ravens, who had been the best team in the league this season in red-zone defense.

It was that kind of game.

@ Jason Worilds continues to impress. He's been the Steelers' best defensive player over the past month and ate Michael Oher's lunch in this game.

Worilds had two sacks, including a strip-sack the Steelers failed to recover, and forced Oher into three false starts.

Then again, I've said for years that Oher appears to false start all the time. Clete Blakeman's crew was nailing him on it, though.

The Ravens had to start doubling Worilds to keep him out of Joe Flacco's face. It would have been nice if someone else would have picked up the slack.

@ Bell's injury wasn't the only big one for the Steelers, who were down to no healthy offensive linemen on their bench for their final drive.

Kelvin Beachum, who did a fantastic job on Suggs, left with a knee injury, though he was moving around OK in the locker room.

And Mike Adams suffered an ankle injury, while David DeCastro injured his foot. They should both be OK in a week and a half against Miami.

The worst of the injuries appears to be to center Fernando Velasco, who was in a walking boot after suffering an ankle injury.

@ With any luck, maybe we'll get to see this matchup a third time.

Maybe the Ravens will overtake the Bengals, whom they are now just a game behind, in the AFC North standings.

Maybe the Steelers will miraculously make the playoffs as well.

Maybe we'll see a Baltimore-Pittsburgh rematch in the opening round of the AFC playoffs.

Is there any football fan who wouldn't want to see that?


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