By Daniel Benjamin
The Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) extended their winning streak to eight games with a 39-38 victory over the Ravens (7-6) as Roethlisberger engineered yet another come-from-behind win. Trailing 38-36 with 2:25 left in the game, Roethlisberger went to work. He set up Chris Boswell’s fourth game-winning field goal of the season with a 10-play, 55-yard drive.
Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two touchdowns, becoming the first player in NFL history to accumulate over 500 yards through the air three times in his career. He set carer-highs in completions (44) and attempts (66) in the game.
With the win, Pittsburgh secured its second straight AFC North division title and its third in four years. The Steelers have captured eight division crowns since the NFL realigned to its current division alignment in 2002. They also maintain their slight edge over New England (10-2) for supremacy in the AFC.
The offense looked strong from the opening kickoff as Roethlisberger looked completely in control of the game. Roethlisberger, who completed eight of his first nine passes, marched the Steelers down the field with relative ease on their first two offensive possessions. The Steelers’ first touchdown was a thing of beauty as Le’Veon Bell, who totaled 100 scrimmage yards for the fifth straight game, lined up wide against safety Tony Jefferson and scored on a 20-yard slant pass play.
The Steelers put up a season-high 20 points in the first half as they scored on each of their first four drives. They racked up 248 yards in the opening half, with 220 of those yards coming through the air as Roethlisberger completed 19-of-26 pass attempts. A big reason for his success was the offensive line handling the Ravens’ vaunted pass rush. Roethlisberger started the game out 16-for-19 when the Ravens rushed four or more players, and was sacked just once in the first 30 minutes.
Roethlisberger also did a nice job spreading the ball around with Bell, Martavis Bryant, Jesse James and Vance McDonald involved in the passing attack early and often. Those four came away with 13 of the Steelers’ 19 receptions in the half.
Following halftime, the offense got off to a rocky start. The Steelers managed only 21 yards on their first three second half possessions which included two three-and-outs. However, the Steelers started making proper adjustments late in the third quarter and Roethlisberger and the offense took off. Roethlisberger threw for 228 yards in the fourth quarter alone with 136 yards going to Brown, who finished with 213 yards on 11 receptions.
Brown was tremendous as usual, making several big plays. He constantly beat cornerback Brandon Carr on go-routes, which is exactly what he did on perhaps the biggest play of the game. On third-and-4 from their own 36-yard line, Brown got off the line cleanly and as he sprinted past Carr, Roethlisberger lofted a perfect pass over the top and the 28-year-old came down with a 30 gain. And, the Steelers were in business with a first down at the Ravens 30.
While Brown, Bell and James, who set career-bests with 10 catches for 97 yards, were fantastic, the catch of the night belongs to fullback Roosevelt Nix. Nix, known more for his blocking, hauled in a one-yard touchdown toss in the air as he basically took the ball from defender.
The defense really missed injured linebacker Ryan Shazier. The Steelers were gashed for 414 yards and a season-high 38 points. Without Shazier, Ravens’ running back Alex Collins took advantage. Collins rushed for 120 yards on 18 carries and hauled in two passes for an additional 46 yards.
It was really the same story as it has been recently for the Steelers defense. They gave up several big pass plays and were a victim of their own poor tackling.
Safety Sean Davis had one of his worst games as a pro. He was caught out of position several times. Davis was beat for two touchdowns due to his own mistakes and also was flagged for a couple of dumb penalties. Cornerback Artie Burns also had a couple of penalties as he was called for pass interference twice.
On the positive side, Davis led the team with 12 tackles and foiled the Ravens opening drive as he picked off an extremely poor deep pass by Joe Flacco. Vince Williams had a solid game posting seven tackles. In addition, T.J. Watt and Stephen Tuitt came up big late in the game. On the Ravens’ second to last possession, Tuitt deflected Flacco’s third down pass to give the Steelers another offensive possession. And, Watt registered a sack strip of Flacco on the last play of the game.
Special Teams: C
Boswell, who is second in the league with 32 made field goals, was excellent once again. He was 4-for-4 on field goals with three coming from 40 yards or longer, including a 52-yarder.
Punter Jordan Berry had perhaps his best kicking game of the season as he averaged 47.0 yards per boot with none of his three kicks being returned.
Kick returner Martavis Bryant struggled mightily, forcing the Steelers to start inside the 20 yard line four times. Bryant averaged 11.0 yards per return despite having a long of 21 yards. Eli Rogers returned one of Sam Koch’s three punts for a negative-2 yards.
Mike Tomlin and his staff get a lot of credit for preparing the team as well as they did. especially considering how emotionally draining this week was with what went on with Shazier.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley was especially on his game. Haley did a great job overcoming the loss of suspended rookie wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster by lining up Bell, McDonald and James as wide receivers on a number of occasions thus creating mismatches. Haley and Roethlisberger did a fantastic job changing their play calling strategy after the offense sputtered in their first three possessions in the second half by going to quick, short routes mainly over the middle of the field. However, it was genius to call a go route for Brown on the final drive.
But, the Steelers did not manage the game well following the big play to Brown. Rather than trying to run the clock down as much as possible, Roethlisberger threw two incomplete passes on their final two plays, thus leaving the Ravens with 42 seconds and one timeout left.
The Steelers remain home next week for a showdown with the Patriots (10-2) on Sunday afternoon. The winner of next week’s game will likely have a strangle hold on the No. 1 seed in the AFC.