Steelers rest starters, lose to Ravens

BALTIMORE – With a playoff spot already assured, the Pittsburgh Steelers rested a number of starters Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

And the Ravens took advantage of every opportunity afforded to them, beating the Steelers, 27-21, here at M&T Stadium.

The Steelers (10-6) had already clinched the AFC North championship thanks to their own victory over St. Louis and a loss by Cleveland to Cincinnati last week. And they needed a win Sunday and a loss by San Diego to move up from the No. 4 seed to No. 3.

Neither thing happened and the Steelers will now head into the playoffs at Heinz Field Saturday (8 p.m.) against Jacksonville, which finished as the top wild card in the AFC with an 11-5 record.

It will be a rematch of game played at Heinz Field Dec. 16, when Jacksonville rushed for 224 yards in a 29-22 victory over the Steelers.

"They got us pretty good," said Steelers linebacker James Farrior of the Jaguars, who also rested starters Sunday and lost, 42-28, to Houston.

"But we're going to be ready this time. Hopefully, it won't go the same way. They should be coming in with a lot of confidence. They beat us, and they beat us convincingly."

And Sunday's game against Baltimore looked eerily similar, as the Ravens rushed for 180 yards and two touchdowns.

Only it wasn't Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew – two quality running backs – doing the damage. Sunday, it was Musa Smith and Corey Ross, a pair of running backs with just 110 career carries between them.

Smith, who started in place of injured Willis McGahee, hammered out 83 yards on 22 carries. Smith scored on a two-yard run in the first quarter on a possession set up when Willie Reid – subbing for injured Allen Rossum – fumbled the game's opening kickoff.

"We had some self-inflicted wounds early, and the spirit and effort we displayed wasn't enough to bring us back," said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.

"You can't turn the ball over and we have to take advantage of opportunities when we get them. We put the ball on the ground and we had opportunities for interceptions and didn't get it done."

While Smith was banging his way through the Pittsburgh defense, Ross, a second-year back with no career rushing attempts, was spelling him at times with great success. Ross had 72 yards on 12 carries, including a 32-yard TD run in the second quarter that gave Baltimore (5-11) a 17-0 lead.

The Steelers cut the lead to 17-7 on a one-yard run by Najeh Davenport early in the second quarter, but Baltimore got a Matt Stover field goal – his second of the first half – with 17 seconds remaining to take a 20-7 lead into the half.

The Ravens, who had lost nine straight coming into the game, got a 15-yard TD pass from rookie Troy Smith – making his second career start – to Devard Darling with 3:41 left in the third quarter before Charlie Batch – subbing for Ben Roethlisberger – threw a pair of fourth quarter TD passes to get the Steelers close.

Batch, who was 16 of 31 for 218 yards, hooked up with Santonio Holmes on a 59-yard catch-and-run for a score with 7:13 remaining. The Steelers then successfully recovered an onside kick and Batch tossed a seven-yard TD to Cedrick Wilson with 3:36 left in the game.

Pittsburgh got the ball back with 1:36 remaining, but Batch's deep pass to Holmes was intercepted by David Pittman to end any hopes of a Pittsburgh comeback.

Now, the Steelers will go back to work on trying to shore up their suddenly porous run defense for the rematch with Jacksonville.

"Right now, it's balls to the wall. It's the playoffs," said safety Tyrone Carter. "If you ain't ready to go in the playoffs, you don't belong here.

"What more can you ask for than a team that came into your house and whooped you?"

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