The Baltimore Ravens rode into Heinz Field and used an opportunistic defense and a commendable effort from quarterback Joe Flacco, to turn away the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 in the AFC Wild Card round of the playoffs.
If there ever was a season in which Flacco must prove that he is an elite quarterback or near that level, it is the 2014 season. No Ray Lewis; no Ed Reed; no 2000 and 2012 season caliber defenses; no Anquan Boldin; and no Ray Rice means that Flacco has much more pressure on him to prove that he deserves the $120.6 million contract the signed back in 2013 and of course the aforementioned elite quarterback status.
Meanwhile on the Steelers side, they were bereft of their star and Pro Bowl running back Le’Veon Bell who was inactive due to a hyperextended knee injury he suffered in a 27-17 win over the Cincinnati Bengals a little under a week ago. He really could have helped the Steelers running game tonight, because no running back they used could make up for Bell’s absence.
The Steelers mustered only 68 yards on 19 carries and no scores without Bell; Bell averaged more yards than that on his own at 85.0 yards per game during the 2014 regular season.
Also, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went out for a few plays in the fourth quarter when he got his bell rung due to his falling directly on his head after a sack. Roethlisberger who was 31 for 45 for 334 yards, 1 touchdown pass and 2 picks, was never the same after that sack and the Steelers paid for it dearly.
The Steelers got on the board first when their placekicker Shaun Suisham connected on a 45 yard field goal. It was 3-0 Pittsburgh near the tail end of the first quarter.
Former Temple Owls star and running back Bernard Pierce, let the Steelers and of course Ravens fans and media know that he was still a member of the NFL, as he authored a 5 yard cutback to the left, touchdown run with 12:28 left in the second quarter. That run gave the Ravens a 7-3 lead.
Pierce was supposed to be one of the main ball carriers for the Ravens that picked up the slack from Ray Rice’s exit, as well as having a role in complementing the smaller but more explosive Justin Forsett. But he has fallen well short of those ideals.
Mobing on, the Ravens cut into the Steelers’ lead at 10-6 when their placekicker Justin Tucker came in to convert a 28 yard field with just 25 seconds left in the second half.
A concerted effort by different Steeler offensive weapons including receiver Markus Wheaton (2 catches for 28 yards) and tight end Heath Miller (2 catches for 13 yards), helped lead to a 47 yard Suisham field goal. Suisham’s successful field goal cut the Ravens’ lead to 10-9 going into halftime.
On the Ravens’ first drive of the second half, Flacco (18 of 29 for 259 yards, 2 touchdown passes and no picks) directed his team on a 9-play, 57 yard drive which included a defensive pass interference penalty on Steeler cornerback Antwan Blake and Flacco’s own 5 for 6 for 41 yards passing effort. All those beneficial instances set up a successful 45 yard field goal by Tucker to give the Ravens a 13-9 lead early in the third quarter.
Then later in the third quarter, wide receiver Torrey Smith gave the Ravens a comfortable lead at 20-9, when he got behind the Steelers defense and caught a Flacco touchdown pass from 11 yards out. That play took place with just 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Then early in the fourth quarter, Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant who is one of the hits of the 2014 NFL Draft, extended his hands up high in the air to receive a Roethlisberger touchdown pass from 6 yards out, versus one of the better cornerbacks in the AFC in Ladarius Webb. With 11:01 left in the fourth quarter the Steelers saw their lead drop to 20-16.
Even though that was Bryant’s only catch in the game, that’s beside the point. Bryant this year as just a rookie, has helped along with other receivers and Miller, taken pressure off of star receiver Antonio Brown (9 catches for 117 yards) who was held without a touchdown tonight.
Rookie Ravens tight end Crockett Gilmore beat Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds for a 21 yard touchdown reception to pretty much put the kibosh on this game. It was 30-15 Ravens at this point with 7:56 left in the game.
As for that Roethlisberger injury, bringing him back into the game will be questioned ad nauseam this offseason after the type of drive that backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski was engineering. Gradkowski went 2 for 3 for 22 yards on the drive which included getting the Steelers all the way to the BAL 14 yard line.
When Roethlisberger returned at the 3:04 mark of the fourth quarter, he threw an interception to Ravens free safety Darian Stewart who picked off the pass at the top right corner of the end zone for an eventual touchback.
The Steelers were on life support when they received their next score, which was a blocked punt by backup strong safety Shamarko Thomas with the ball eventually rolling out the back of the end zone for a safety. It was 30-17 Ravens with just 1:56 left in the game.
But the Steelers didn’t do much with Thomas’ blocked punt, and soon it was up to the Ravens to execute some kneel downs to end the game which they did. Game over.
More stories you might like