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Ravens escape with win


Ravens escape with win

Ravens 13, Steelers 10
at Heinz Field

The offense slowed down the fast pace to cope with the noise, but it was just as anemic Sunday.

The defense and special teams, however, did just enough for Baltimore to escape with the victory and control of the AFC North.

After the Ravens (8-2) fell behind early on a 31-yard touchdown run by quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was playing for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, they’d take a 10-7 lead on a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones and never look back.

 Justin Tucker had field goals of 26 and 39 yards. Both were set up by turnovers created on a fumble recovery by Ed Reed and an interception by Corey Graham.

Coming off 341 yards passing in last week’s 55-20 win vs. the Oakland Raiders, Joe Flacco returned to form on the road. He went 20-for-32 for 164 yards and no touchdowns. Thirteen of his completions went to running back Ray Rice and slot receiver Anquan Boldin

Flacco has thrown for 232, 187, 147 and 153 in other games away from home this season.

A defense that has had trouble getting to the quarterback all season had three sacks of Leftwich. On a crucial third down near midfield and the Steelers (6-4) trailing 13-10, Haloti Ngata got his first sack since Week 6 by dropping Leftwich for a 10-yard loss.

Graham jarred Heath Miller to cause an incompletion near midfield with 30 seconds left on Pittsburgh’s final drive. On the next play, safety Bernard Pollard flattened Jerricho Cotchery to prevent another completion down field.

Player of the game: This goes to Jones for his 63-yard punt return for a touchdown, silencing a rabid crowd and giving the Ravens the lead 10-7. A week ago, Jones had a 105-yard kickoff return for a TD and he tied and NFL record with 108-yard kick return.

Turning point: Both occurred on the same drive with the Steelers on the verge of regaining the lead. With the Ravens’ offense struggling to move the ball, a 10-yard tripping penalty on Steelers LB Larry Foote gave them an automatic first down. Then DE Brett Keisel was called for offisides on 3rd-and-7 at 2:04. The Ravens still punted but were able to run valuable time off the clock to secure the victory. The Steelers didn’t have any timeouts remaining.

Unsung: James Ihedigbo made a crucial block to help spring Jones for his TD. He also was key in special teams coverage. When it looked like Chris Rainey had room to run when he reversed field on a punt return in the third quarter, Ihedigbo wrapped him up. On 3rd-and-11 from Baltimore’s 43 with less than five minutes left, Ihedigbo hit Leftwich from his blindside to drop him for a 7-yard loss and force a punt.

Lineup shuffle: Jah Reid made his first start of the season, taking over at left guard in place of Bobbie Williams (ankle) who was inactive. Arthur Jones started again in place of Pernell McPhee (knee), who missed his third game in a row.

Quick impact: CB Chris Johnson was acquired last week as a free agent after Jimmy Smith went out because of surgery to repair his groin muscle. Johnson was beaten by Mike Wallace for a 15-yard gain on 3rd-and-10, but he stripped him of the ball and it was recovered by Ed Reed. The play set up the Ravens’ first points to trim the deficit to 7-3.

Warming up: LB Paul Kruger picked up where he left off in the last game, when he was credited with two sacks. He dropped Leftwich for a 7-yard loss on third down. That gives Kruger 4.5 sacks for the season, just one fewer than he had last season.

Conversion rate: The Steelers came into the gameas the best team in the NFL in converting third downs at 50%. But that was with Roethlisberger. Sunday, they were 1-for-8 in the first half alone. They failed on two third-and-1s, with RB Jonathan Dwyer getting stuffed late in the second quarter. The Steelers finished 5-for-17 for the game.

Inefficient: The Ravens had the chance to take a two-possession lead to start the third quarter, but Reid was called for an off-start that cost them 5 yards. Flacco then mishandled a snap in the Shotgun that forced an incompletion. Tucker came in for a 41-yard FG into the open end of the stadium and pushed it wide right. It was just his second miss of the season as the lead stayed 10-7.

Concussed: TE Dennis Pitta was dinged in a game last week and went out early in this one. After making a 5-yard catch on the first drive, Pitta didn’t return because of a concussion. He was replaced in the two-tight end set by Billy Bajema, who was called for a hold that thwarted what was shaping up to be a promising drive in the second quarter.

Run stoppers: Last week’s performance against the Raiders wasn’t a true sign of how, or if, it has improved because their top two runners were out with ankle injuries. Sunday, against Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, the Ravens held firm in allowing just 93 on 24 carries. Redman left early with a concussion and didn’t return.

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Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline


Steelers players plunder Le'Veon Bell's locker a day after missed deadline

Le'Veon Bell decided not to return to the Steelers this season, and his former teammates have apparently decided they can have his belongings. 

The All-Pro running back didn't sign his $14.5 million franchise tag by Tuesday's deadline, and thus is ineligible to play this season.

Steelers player were seen plundering his locker Wednesday in front of reporters. Defensive end Bud Dupree went right for Bell's cleats, thanking him for the Jordan brand shoes and saying he wishes Bell success.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told reporters he sent Bell his well-wishes, but got no response from his former backfield mate. 

It's unclear what Bell plans to do next, but it's crystal clear the Steelers have moved on, with his shoes in tow. 


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Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco


Lamar Jackson, Robert Griffin III prepared to start if hip injury sidelines Joe Flacco

Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson has had his fair share of life changing moments. 

Winning the Heisman Trophy in 2016, being drafted by the Ravens in the first-round of the 2018 NFL Draft, and come Sunday, possibly his first NFL start.

With Joe Flacco nursing a hip injury suffered against the Pittsburgh Steelers Week 9, the 21-year-old could be leading the Ravens for a full 60 minutes against division rival Cincinnati Bengals in what could be a defining moment of their season.

"I'm just going into it like any other week," Jackson said Wednesday. "Just preparing for whatever."

While Jackson has appeared in all nine games going 7-for-12 for 87 passing yards and one touchdown, he is the only first-round quarterback out of the 2018 draft that has yet to start this season. 

When asked how he would feel if his name is called Sunday, Jackson said he would have butterflies at first but added once the ball is snapped, "it's on."

Through the Ravens' first half of the season, how and when Jackson is utilized at either quarterback or receiver, has lacked consistency. Add in the lack of highlight reel passes from him and many are concerned he's not ready for an NFL start. 

The fast style of NFL play compared to that of college football was something Jackson admittedly struggled with throughout the preseason. But with nine regular season games under his belt, Jackson feels that is the area where he's taken the biggest strides. 

"Calling the plays," Jackson said. "Before I'd have to ask coach a hundred times, 'say it again, say it again,' but now he says it one time to me. Don't get me wrong, sometimes if [the call] is long or whatever I have to ask [coach to] say it again, but other than that I'm getting better with that."

Head coach John Harbaugh offered no insight on who would be their starting quarterback on Sunday and it can be expected he'll keep hush up until the last moment. Flacco was not on the practice field during media availability Wednesday, either. 

But let's not forget the other veteran quarterback on their roster; Robert Griffin III

For the first time since 2009, the Ravens decided to keep three quarterbacks on their 53-man roster for this very reason.

After sitting out of football for a year, RGIII was given a second chance in Baltimore, but has been a gameday inactive since the start of the season. If the week progresses and neither Flacco or Jackson seem ready, it could be the comeback of the once Offensive Rookie of the Year. 

"That's my job. That's why they brought me here," Griffin III said Wednesday on if he feels prepared to possibly start. "They brought me here to be a pro. They brought me here to help this team if need be. I try to help the defense every week on scout team and then do those [reps], and if my number's called I'll be able to go out there and lead this team."

Both RGIII and Jackson said that it would be "awesome" if they were named the starting QB on Sunday, but that no matter who it ends up being they're all here for one another.

"I'm going to continue to help [Lamar] just like I have all season because we're about the Ravens here," Griffin III said. "It's not about individuals. We've got a pretty daunting task ahead with this Bengals team and then just with the rest of our schedule, so we've got to make sure we make the most of every opportunity."