Big Play Defense Returns

Do Steelers fans remember turnovers? Sacks? Big hits? Open-field tackles? Well, the Steelers used all of those in a 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens.

PITTSBURGH – Oniel Cousins shouldn't have made LaMarr Woodley mad.

No, the replacement for injured Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Jared Gaither shouldn't have grabbed Woodley's facemask during a 2nd-and-15 pass play from the Steelers' 26-yard line in the fourth quarter of a tie game.

After the pass fell incomplete, Woodley turned to look at the official for a flag, and Cousins blasted Woodley in the face. The official did see that and penalized the Ravens 15 yards.

The penalty not only knocked the Ravens out of field-goal range, it raised Woodley's ire. The Steelers' left outside linebacker went to the sideline after the play and told teammates, "Flacco's going to have to pay for this."

And pay Flacco did.

On the Ravens' final possession, while attempting to rally from a three-point deficit, Woodley whipped Cousins twice and sacked Flacco both times. The second hit knocked the ball loose. It bounced off a helmet and into the arms of rookie Ziggy Hood, who went to the ground to give the Steelers the game's final possession in the 23-20 win.

The chain of events allowed the Steelers to choke off a rally, keep their playoff hopes alive, and give the beleaguered defense some much-needed confidence going into the regular-season finale at Miami.

"As bad as we've been playing all year, everything seems to be working itself out a little bit. We're still alive," said Woodley.

For a defense that hadn't forced a turnover in three games, and had forced only three in the last six games, the three turnovers from the Ravens was a welcome rainstorm in a parched desert.

Woodley provided the first lightning bolt when he hit Flacco on the Ravens' first possession. It forced a pop-up that James Farrior intercepted to set up a Steelers field goal.

James Harrison, playing virtually one-handed thanks to a Thursday practice injury to his right bicep, forced the other turnover when he jarred the ball loose from Ray Rice inside the Steelers' 30-yard line in the second quarter.

As had been their tradition prior to this injury-plagued and mistake-prone season, the Steelers also had four sacks in their big-play defensive arsenal. Ike Taylor had the first, while Woodley had the final two. Hood had the other sack, the first for this year's No. 1 draft pick.

"It couldn't have come at a better time," said Hood.

Hood sacked Flacco on a third-and-nine play in the fourth quarter to set up the Steelers' game-winning field goal drive. And this time, the defense didn't give the lead away.

"We gave up two big plays and we gave up a lot of rushing yards, things we don't like to do, some missed tackles in there, but we came out on top," said Woodley.

The Steelers, in fact, allowed 141 rushing yards to Rice, the first back to gain over 100 yards against them since Fred Taylor ran wild at the end of the 2007 season.

With Brett Keisel on the sideline with a stinger, and Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu already out of action, the game had been taking on all of the characteristics of that 2007 season. But the Steelers persevered behind not only Woodley, Harrison, Hood, Taylor and Farrior, but players such as Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke. Tyrone Carter even made an open-field tackle to save a touchdown. And no one even thought about using an onside kick this game.

"We're playing a little better," said Harrison. "We were able to close it out this time. It's a step in the right direction."

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