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Ravens top Steelers 13-10, control AFC North race

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Ravens top Steelers 13-10, control AFC North race

PITTSBURGH (AP) Terrell Suggs isn't ready to declare the race for the AFC North title over.

Besides, even if it were after the Baltimore Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night, the veteran linebacker knows Pittsburgh still has the upper hand in the rivals' ultimate litmus test.

``They got it where it counts,'' Suggs said. ``That's all that really matters is championships. These little independent battles is good for morale but until we catch them in the ring race ... we'll take the win but we've still got to catch them in that component of the rivalry.''

The Ravens (8-2) took a significant step in that direction by shutting down the Steelers (6-4) and backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. The veteran completed 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards in place of injured starter Ben Roethlisberger. Leftwich ran for a score but also threw a drive-killing interception and was sacked three times.

``We went out there and we tried to make plays,'' Leftwich said. ``Some went our way, some didn't. And it just wasn't enough.''

The rematch comes in Baltimore in two weeks.

``It's like halftime,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. ``It's like we won the first half and the second half is coming up.''

The Steelers certainly hope it goes a little better than the first.

Pittsburgh was a clock chewing, drive extending machine under Roethlisberger. There were considerably more fits and starts with Leftwich under center. The Steelers converted just 5 of 17 (29 percent) of third downs, well below their season average or 49 percent.

``We never found a rhythm,'' Leftwich said.

The Ravens weren't much better. Joe Flacco completed 20 of 32 passes for 164 yards. Running back Ray Rice managed just 40 yards on 20 carries, forcing the Ravens to rely on an old standby make the difference.

Typically, that's not a problem. But this is not a typical year in Baltimore.

The defense came in ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed and is missing spiritual leader Ray Lewis, who is on the injured reserve-return list with a triceps injury.

The emotional linebacker made the trip anyway, giving his teammates a lift in the locker room.

``We haven't been playing the best the past couple weeks, or the whole season, some people say,'' said Baltimore cornerback Corey Graham, who intercepted Leftwich in the third quarter. ``We've just got to find a way to get wins and that's what we were able to do today.''

The Steelers hosted a number of franchise greats, including Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Joe Greene.

Their presence was appreciated, though it did little to make up for the absence of safety Troy Polamalu - out again with a right calf injury - or Roethlisberger, the franchise's current standard bearer.

Roethlisberger offered to do everything he could to help Leftwich win his first game as a starter in more than six years and insisted all week the offense wouldn't change.

For a fleeting moment, Roethlisberger appeared to be right.

Leftwich went deep on the game's first snap trying to hit Mike Wallace, drawing a pass interference penalty on Baltimore's Cary Williams. Two plays later Leftwich - who joked all week about his lack of speed - bought time in the pocket, rolled to his right and made for the sideline.

Rather than slide or duck out of bounds, the 250-pound Leftwich got a block and raced - in a manner of speaking - 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Roethlisberger lifted his good arm in the air in celebration after the longest run of Leftwich's career, and the play seemed to give Pittsburgh a sense of confidence.

It didn't last. At least, not on offense.

The Steelers' second possession ended with a Wallace fumble that Ed Reed returned to the Pittsburgh 14. Baltimore managed only a field goal, but it seemed to bring the Steelers back to earth.

If that didn't, Jones did.

The explosive return man drifted under a Drew Butler punt late in the first half, sprinted up the field, cut to the right and zipped untouched to the end zone for his third return touchdown of the season to give Baltimore a 10-7 lead.

``They were trying to set up the outside wall, but I saw nothing but open field to the right so I thought, `Why not go this way?''' Jones said.

Baltimore moved in front 13-7 in the third quarter on Justin Tucker's second field goal, more than enough to help the Ravens take a major step toward their second straight division title.

``They talked about how it was going to be a physical game, how it was going to come down to the end and it lived up to it,'' Graham said. ``It was definitely a great experience. I look forward to it in a couple weeks.''

NOTES: Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta left the game with a concussion in the first quarter and did not return ... Pittsburgh RB Isaac Redman also left with a concussion and did not return ... Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall had 33 yards in his first game in a month ... The Steelers travel to Cleveland next week while the Ravens play in San Diego.

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Justin Tucker missed a game-tying PAT, but the Ravens aren't fazed at all

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USA TODAY Sports

Justin Tucker missed a game-tying PAT, but the Ravens aren't fazed at all

Justin Tucker making an extra point for the Baltimore Ravens is a sure thing.

As sure as the sun will rise each morning, Tucker's dependability and success have been a constant for the team. But on an afternoon where winds of around 17 mph were a factor though 60 minutes, Tucker's success came to a shocking halt. 

After Joe Flacco and the offense made their way downfield, Flacco found wide receiver John Brown in the end zone to make the score 24-23 with 24 seconds left in regulation.

In walked the most accurate kicker in NFL history to do what he's done so many times before; keep the Ravens in the game. As the ball sailed off Tucker's foot, it took a right and became the first point-after-touchdown the kicker has ever missed.

"I felt like when the ball came off my foot, that I hit it just how I wanted to," Tucker said at the podium following the Ravens' Week 7 loss to the Saints. "Don't get me wrong, today was a challenging day to kick the ball in our stadium, to the right of our bench."

Two hundred and twenty two-straight PATs. 222 consecutive makes, including 112 consecutive since PATs were moved back to the 15-yard line in 2015. Tucker was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Month for September, marking the fifth time he's been awarded the honor.

From the field to the press box and all the way to the nosebleeds, M&T Bank Stadium was in shock. 

"A lot of things go through your mind, but I've been there plenty of time," Flacco said. "If you play football long enough, you're going to be there at some point. We're a very tight team here, and the first thing you think about is your brother and him dealing with it. Justin's the best in the world at what he does, and he's the most confident person that I know. It's not going to be an issue." 

"We're a tight group – we are light years better than we've been in the past," safety Eric Weddle said in the locker room after the loss. "Shoot, 'Tuck' is going to win us some games. We're not worried about that missed kick. Shoot, I think it's the first extra point ever that he's missed. Let's not get on him too hard. He's going to be hard on himself. That wasn't the only reason we lost." 

The support for Tucker, in what was a one-off for their teammate, was apparent throughout the entire locker room. When Tucker took to the podium to address the media, long snapper Morgan Cox and punter Sam Koch stood in the interview room while their kicker tried to explain what went wrong in a show of support.

"This one just happened to get away from me," Tucker added. "I'll have to look at it. I can't tell you exactly what happened, but at the end of the day, I feel like I cost us the game. Every single one of my teammates thus far has told me the opposite, and no one plays wins or loses a game, but that's a tough thing to grapple with when you're the guy in the situation at the end of the game."

Even members of the Saints were in disbelief. Almost everyone was mentally preparing for overtime as Tucker's accuracy is known around the league.

"When [Tucker] missed it, I thought, 'Let's get up and get out of here,'" running back Mark Ingram said. "I mean, that guy is good, so I was shocked."

"I automatically was thinking about overtime and what we were going to do," quarterback Drew Brees added. "I was very, very surprised when he missed it."

What the Ravens and fans alike can take solace in is that Tucker's stats speak for themselves showing more positive plays than negative. While it was probably the most heartbreaking loss they've had since Week 17 of the 2017 season, Tucker's point of emphasis when speaking with the media postgame was about more than a missed extra point.

"But, more than anything, I just wanted to be here [at the podium]," he said. "If I was going to ever teach my son or any young person about accountability, I felt like it was really important that I stand up here and answer whatever questions you guys may have."

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What you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints

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What you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss to the Saints

The Baltimore Ravens' top-ranked scoring defense clashed with the New Orleans Saints' top-ranked scoring offense in a game fans will soon never forget.

After a constant back and forth and a chance to tie the game, Justin Tucker missed his first ever point-after-touchdown attempt with seconds to spare.

Here's what you need to know from the Ravens' 24-23 loss over the Saints.

— We knew this game was going to be interesting and the Saints didn't waste any time getting things rolling. Facing a fourth down, New Orleans faked a punt for a five-yard gain from third-string quarterback Taysom Hill. The 20 play, 69-yard drive was highlighted by four fourth-down attempts, two challenges from the Ravens and a fumble recovery by nose tackle Michael Pierce on the final fourth down attempt at the six-yard line.

Not only was the 9:58 drive the longest opening drive by a team this season, it was the longest opening drive to result in zero points since the Browns' 9:59 opening drive Week 1 of 2015, per NFL research.

— Drew Brees continues making history during the 2018 season. The QB threw his 500th career touchdown to former Raven Ben Watson in the second quarter joining Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady in the prestigious club. Then when the clock hit zero and the Saints came away with the win, Brees also joined Manning and Favre as the third QB to beat all 32 NFL teams.

Prior to Sunday, Brees was 0-4 against the Ravens. He also became the NFL's all-time leading passer back in Week 5.

— It only took seven weeks, but rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown with four seconds left in the first half. While it was only from one-yard out, it was nice to see Jackson kick it into gear with the clock ticking. He wasn't the only guy from the Ravens' 2018 draft class to make an impact. Tight end Mark Andrews scored an eight-yard touchdown late in the third quarter to put the team up 17-7 and left guard Bradley Bozeman and right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. held down the O-line for much of the afternoon. 

— The Ravens' streak of not allowing a second-half touchdown in the 2018 season came to an end Sunday. Drew Brees gave the ball to running back Alvin Kamara at the top of the fourth quarter resulting in a two-yard touchdown. Kamara finished the day with 17 attempts for 64 yards and one touchdown. 

— Jimmy Smith's first start of 2018 didn't go quite as well as he'd like.

Smith was hit with two pass interference calls, with one of them coming in the end zone leading to a Saints touchdown and the other on one of many third downs. The cornerback had trouble covering wide receiver Michael Thomas, who heading into Week 7 was ranked fourth in the NFL,  all afternoon. One of their meetings resulted in a touchdown to put the Saints up 21-17.

— Then there was, of course, Justin Tuckers' first-ever PAT miss. After Joe Flacco hit John Brown in the end zone for a 14-yard touchdown with 0:24 left on the clock, the Ravens were preparing to go into overtime until that wasn't necessary. Tucker, who is the most accurate kicker in NFL history, was on the wrong side of history when his kick went wide right.

From the field to the nosebleeds, M&T Bank Stadium was in shock as the clock expired and the final score was 24-23.

Postgame, Tucker took responsibility for the team's loss while his head coach and teammates all reiterated that a game never comes down to just one play.