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Epic Reboot: Steelers 31, Ravens 27

It was an epic game, one for the ages, and worthy of this chronological review:

* The offense is introduced first and the crowd builds to a frenzy for Ben Roethlisberger, who comes out of the tunnel more animated than usual. Even during the National Anthem he's rocking back and forth and appears absolutely jacked.

* And, the opening kickoff goes out of bounds and the Ravens start at the 40. Fire Tomlin!

* Mike Wallace catches a 5-yard slant past a gambling Artie Burns and Mike Mitchell makes the tackle. This time.

* That John Harbaugh, trying to open the game with the 95-yard touchdown play that won the last one, what a card.

* Ricardo Mathews with the tackle, and it's a sign that the hobbled veteran might be able to stay in there ahead of Johnny Maxey for a while.

* Steelers line up offensively opposite Antonio Brown with "Combat Catch" Cobi Hamilton, and in the slot with Eli Rogers. Both undrafted players are in their first seasons.
* And with Ladarius Green out, I take comfort in Todd Haley's remark that while we've all been watching and talking about Green, the other three TEs have grown. I noticed that myself in Xavier Grimble He seems to have more confidence.

* Alejandro Villanueva on the pull. Man, this O-line is athletic. And it leads to Bell running over Ravens tackling machine Zachary Orr.

* Feed Le'Veon and AB right away. Smart.

* Ramon Foster pulls right and flattens C.J. Mosley as Bell gains 7.

* Mosley must be upset. He takes it out on Rogers with a vicious blast. Plus 15 for Pittsburgh.

* Bell behind Rosie Nix and the right side of the Steelers OL for 10 to set up a first down at the 20.

* Out comes the X-man for his first snap as Roethlisberger spreads five receivers out. I tell the guy next to me that Grimble, their most athletic TE, would better serve them as a decoy here. "Have to throw this to AB."

* Twenty-yard laser to Grimble for a TD.

* Grimble took a wicked shot from Eric Weddle and held on, and it will only help his confidence. Players just keep developing here.

* Vince Williams rocked the return man short of the 20. No doubt Vince wished him a Merry Christmas, asked about the fam.

* Steve Smith called out Mike Mitchell after the last game and Mitchell vowed revenge. Well, Mitchell misses tackling Smith on his first reception, which, with Burns' late hit, is a 59-yard gain.

* Joe Flacco hung one up to Breshan Perriman in the end zone that Mitchell breaks up to gain some redemption. The Ravens kick a field goal, 7-3.

* Cobi back to return the kickoff in place of Sammie Coates, next to "blocking back" Fitzgerald Toussaint. Not a whole lot of speed back there, and if you're not going to use Justin Gilbert now, you have to figure he's of no help anywhere on the field. But Ravens K Justin Tucker helped the cause by booting it out of the end zone.

* Penalties on star players Bell and Brown kill the next possession and the Ravens have a chance to take the lead. Their cause is helped by line judge Jeff Seeman, with an awful call on a third-and-5 tackle for no gain. Ryan Shazier was called for hitting a defenseless player. TV replays give the official a technical out, but the fullback did drop his head. The fans and the players don't want to hear any of it as boos cascade and one by one, during the next break, Steelers coaches and players talk to Seeman.

* The break, of course, was provided by a botched field goal attempt off a bad snap and hold. No harm with the foul.

* Steelers running their 4-3 quite a bit with one of their OLBs lining up well off the ball. Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward will help this immensely next year, but it makes me wonder if they'll draft another 3-4 OLB prospect or more of a 4-3 DE.

* Lawrence Timmons and Shazier blitz out of the formation and Timmons blows up the drive with a sack, No. 35.5 in his career to match Kevin Greene for eighth place on the team's all-time list. It was also his 101st tackle of the season.

* Third OT Chris Hubbard in with Rosie Nix at fullback. Now Nix takes out Orr but Bell runs wider. He cuts back and Nix is still pushing Orr, so Bell circles back, under and up, for 9.

* Next Grimble sighting and Ben goes to him, but nearly throws an interception to Orr. It was dropped.

* Punter Jordan Berry is belted by by two Ravens without a flag thrown. The referee told the crowd they were blocked into the punter. He lied.

* Kenneth Dixon doesn't go down easily. At all. He's like their WR, Smith. And their fullback.

* Makes it all the more curious why anyone could miss a tackle on Wallace when he's a a rare Raven seemingly looking for a nice, soft place to go down.

* Maxey draws the hold to begin the Ravens downfall here. Bud Dupree follows with a sack and the Ravens follow with a punt.

* On third-and-3, Roethlisberger checks to a run play and Bell loses a yard. The coaching staff takes the brunt of growing frustration on message boards and twitter feeds throughout the internet as the first half winds down and a Ravens field goal sends the teams to break at 7-6.

* The grumbling becomes a low roar as Roethlisberger throws an interception on the first play of the second, and Flacco throws to Smith for a touchdown and then a two-point conversion. Might want to think about covering that guy with someone other than a linebacker. Or, in the case of the conversion, anyone.

* And, of course, Toussaint takes another kickoff out of the end zone and returns it to the 17. The "blocking back" has 13 returns, more than twice as many as Coates, with an average of 21.4 per return, and most, I'm guessing, started in the end zone. Take the knee.

* I'm weary from writing that.

* Jesse James picks up the blitzing safety and Roethlisberger spots Rogers on a crossing pattern for a 39-yard gain. Rogers runs into the kicking net on the sideline, goes back onto the field to show everyone he made a first down, is slow back to the line and is the apparent cause of a needless timeout.

* Kids.

* On a third-and-2 pass to the end zone, Brown either failed to try very hard or was held by the DB. Field goal cuts deficit to 14-10.

* Dixon not only finds holes in the defensive line, he carries piles of linebackers and defensive backs just about every time he carries the ball. This rookie's going to be a handful for years to come. Ravens back up, 17-10.

* Strange personnel package on second-and-6 as Brown and Nix leave for Rogers and David Johnson, giving the Steelers two TEs, 3 OTs and Rogers with Bell. Would have to run
the ball, right? Well, that's what the Steelers wanted them thinking. Roethlisberger fakes the handoff and throws an interception to a double-covered James. The linebackers were not fooled at all and the third quarter ends on that ominous note.

* Ravens third-and-3 at the Pittsburgh 4 and the Steelers' season looks bleak. The team's Rookie of the Year, Sean Davis, breaks up what appeared to be a touchdown pass. Ravens kick, 20-10.

* The criticism of Tomlin is that he's won only one playoff game in five years with a Hall of Fame QB. Well, it's time for the Hall of Fame QB to play like a Hall of Fame QB.

* A handoff to Bell for a loss of two with 14:18 left isn't what fans had in mind as a smattering of boos are heard at Heinz Field.

* But Ben finds Jesse James, who hurdles a safety like he's Jesse Owens.

* Well, kind of.

* Well, no. He didn't look anything like Jesse Owens.

* But James gets out in front of an AB screen for 6, and a 35-yard pass interference penalty against Ravens rookie CB Tavon Young on rookie WR Demarcus Ayers, his first significant play in the NFL, gives the Steelers life.

* Bell almost misses the handoff, but grabs it, cuts it back and beats Terrell Suggs wide to the end zone with the help of a block from Ayers. The guy who heard boos to start the drive is now listening to thunderous cheers. The playing of Renegade follows and Heinz Field is rocking once again.

* And Boswell kicks the friggin' thing out of bounds.

* On third-and-3, even an idiot sportswriter up in the press box can see that the Steelers are leaving the Ravens slot WR uncovered. Flacco sees it and throws to Kamar Aiken. But, aha, it's a set-up, as Dupree drops into coverage and deflects the pass away. It's the second key defensive play in two series and the Ravens punt after a three-and-out.

* Roethlisberger takes over at his 10, an historic starting place for him, and he's flanked by 81, 82, 83 and 84. But it's Bell who rips off a run of 23 yards around right tackle. David Johnson sealed the corner on Suggs, but it was Marcus Gilbert flashing a raw hatred for linebackers.

* Another near interception by Mosley may have scared Roethlisberger straight as he follows with a handoff to Bell for 13. Every lineman including TE James controlled a man and
Combat Cobi added a pop, too.

* And there goes AB with a crossing route for 21 and then a slant for 26. From the Baltimore 7, Roethlisberger rolls right, calls Bell's name while looking left, Bell stops blocking, takes a flip from Roethlisberger and motors home for the 24-20 lead.

* My seat is swaying in the press box.

* Of course, nothing is easy in the year 2016, even on Christmas Day, in spite of the double Renegade.

* The Ravens turn to the guys the Steelers haven't been able to tackle since, well, ever: Dixon, Smith and fullback Kyle Juszczyk. It's a slow drip as TE Dennis Pitta brings it to the Pittsburgh 10. Just when you're calculating how best to use the clock on third-and-1, Juszczyk runs through a hole, and through Mitchell, for an incredible touchdown run and 27-24
Ravens lead with 1:18 left.

* It starts with James for 3. At least he went out of bounds, even if he didn't seem to want to.

* Then it's AB 8. He used a great spin move to get out of bounds.

* The rhythm established, now it's time for chunks. Roethlisberger evades pressure and finds James over the middle for 16. Steelers use their second timeout and Roethlisberger shakes off pain in his left knee.

* Over midfield, Ayers makes his first NFL catch for 9, and, again, gets out of bounds.

* This was the only negative moment for me: Roethlisberger escaped pressure, rolled right, threw high to Rogers and the catch was made at the 19 with 41 seconds left. And Roethlisberger spiked it. I would've preferred he save the down.

* Well, I would have if I were a Hall of Fame QB.

* Roethlisberger checks down to Hamilton, the fifth different receiver on six passes, to bring up third-and-4 at the Baltimore 13 with 32 seconds left.

* Go back to the practice video the other day and you'll hear Tomlin say "Everybody talks about our tight end problems. Give me a tight end in the huddle and let's go." And on the next play, James concludes an impressive day for the injury-depleted group with a nine-yard catch at the Baltimore 4.

* A necessary spike by Roethlisberger set up the final Steelers play with 14 seconds left, a risky pass to AB short of the goal line. But Brown took on three Ravens and stretched the ball over the plane, while his facemask is being pulled, and scored the division-clinching touchdown. Ramon Foster thundered the spike home.

* The argument I would make for throwing it short of the end zone with no timeouts is that the Steelers lack the requisite short-area red-zone receiver.

* Prior to the game, Mike Tomlin called it an honor to play for football fans on Christmas Day. This football fan calls it an honor to have watched it.


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