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.