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Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

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Steelers hanging around behind resurgent Batch

PITTSBURGH (AP) Larry Foote has no illusions about the Pittsburgh Steelers catching the Baltimore Ravens to win the AFC North even after Sunday's emotionally charged 23-20 victory over their bitter rivals.

He doesn't exactly care either.

Sure, homefield in the playoffs - if the Steelers manage to make it - would be nice. But the 32-year-old doesn't believe it's necessary for Pittsburgh to get where it wants to go.

``We've just got to get a ticket,'' Foote said. ``The last few years, the Giants have done it, and Green Bay has done it.''

Heck, so have the Steelers (7-5), who revived their season in a dramatic fourth quarter in which they scored 10 points to snap Baltimore's 15-game home winning streak.

Pittsburgh won three road playoff games on its way to the 2006 Super Bowl, a route it would like have to travel again if the Ravens can maintain their two-game lead over the Steelers and Bengals with a month to go in the season.

It's a cushion Foote doesn't see evaporating.

``I'm sure they're probably going to win the division,'' Foote said. ``I can't see them losing two more games.''

If Foote and the rest of his fellow 30-somethings can continue to muster the toughness they showed while rallying past the Ravens, they might not lose two more games between now and next season, either.

In one of the toughest places in the NFL to play - let alone win - backup quarterback Charlie Batch passed for 276 yards, directed two late scoring drives and played like someone ready to turn 28, not 38.

Linebacker James Harrison and his aching 34-year-old knees strip-sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco to set up the game-tying touchdown and 31-year-old safety Troy Polamalu's presence seemed to energize a defense that lacked the kind of ``splash plays'' that have been the unit's calling card under coordinator Dick LeBeau.

It was a vintage performance few outside the locker room expected.

Not without Ben Roethlisberger, whose sprained right shoulder relegated him to the role of head cheerleader for a third straight week. Not with a patchwork offensive line that included a rookie seventh-round draft pick making his first NFL start. Not with cornerback Ike Taylor going down on the game's second play with an ankle injury so severe he could miss his first game in eight years when the Steelers host San Diego on Sunday.

Yet the Steelers survived anyway, evening the season series with the Ravens and postponing Baltimore's division title plans for at least a week or two.

``We're still alive,'' safety Ryan Clark said. ``But we need some more games like this.''

Pittsburgh just might get them.

The Steelers play three of their final four at home starting with the reeling Chargers (4-8). Roethlisberger is one week closer to getting back on the field, though the offense appears to be in good hands until his return after Batch avoided the three-interception nightmare that cost Pittsburgh so dearly in a loss to Cleveland a week ago.

Save for a late interception - one the defense quickly atoned for - and an overthrow of a wide-open Mike Wallace at the end of the first half, Batch was efficient and poised. He completed 25 of 36 passes, including a touchdown to Heath Miller that tied the game late and was a perfect 5 of 5 on the game-winning drive.

How good was Batch? His 276 yards were the most he's thrown in a game since Nov. 18, 2001 while playing for the Detroit Lions.

To put that in perspective, Roethlisberger was a freshman at Miami (Ohio) the last time Batch had a better day as a pro.

``I've been in the league 15 years,'' Batch said. ``I've been a starter in this league, and the one thing you can't do is dwell on the past. It's a long season, and no matter what, all I can ask for is another opportunity.''

He may get another one next weekend, four days after he turns 38. Batch is the oldest player in a locker room filled with guys closer to the end of their career than the beginning. That experience allows him to play with an even keel that guards against panic when things don't go as planned. It also allows him to summon a sense of urgency when necessary.

Batch had both on a day the Steelers provided a reminder that the core group that's won two Super Bowl rings in the last eight years isn't quite done yet.

``Charlie came in and played the game that we needed him to play today to win,'' Harrison said. ``It's not surprising to us. It may be to you, but not to us.''

While Polamalu's return was quieter, it was no less impactful. The perennial All-Pro has been dogged by a strained right calf that has limited him to all of five quarters before Sunday. He eased his way back in, taking the occasional breather to make sure he didn't overtax himself.

The result was a defense that limited Flacco to 16 of 34 passing for 188 yards and sacked him three times on an afternoon that felt like old times for a bunch of old guys.

``You know (Polamalu) is going to make a big play when it's time,'' nose tackle Casey Hampton said. ``Just to have him down the stretch, we know we're going to need him, because it's time for us to make a run.''

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

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Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

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Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

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Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

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Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

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Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.