The Pittsburgh Steelers are back in the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and hosting a playoff game for the first time since 2010–which is also the most recent time they recorded a victory in the postseason. They’re hoping to change that tonight in Heinz Field as they take on the Baltimore Ravens for the third time this season.
The Steelers split their two previous matchups against Baltimore during the year, getting blown out in the first game and returning the favor several weeks later. But Pittsburgh has never lost to a division opponent in the playoffs, and holds a 3-0 record against the Ravens in the playoffs. That’s good to make you feel good.
On a personal note, this is the first time since I’ve begun covering the Steelers that I actually get to write about a playoff game. I’ve yet to experience Steeler nation in playoff fervor, so I’m looking forward to that.
The only injury for the Steelers is running back Le’Veon Bell, though that is naturally a big one. Taking an All-Pro out of your offense is always a big deal, even if Bell only gained 20 yards on the ground in the Steelers’ victory over the Ravens earlier in the season. As Alex Kozora pointed out, however, his absence will affect the passing game, not just because of what he can do with the ball in his hand, but because it gives quarterback Ben Roethlisberger the comfort to check down to him knowing that he can make a play. That would result in him holding on to the ball longer.
There are a few interesting, though not surprising, healthy scratches for this game, including cornerback Ike Taylor and wide receiver Lance Moore. For the Ravens, they will be without two key contributors in Eugene Monroe and Timmy Jernigan, though they will be getting Haloti Ngata back into the mix.
Troy Polamalu came out to participate in the opening coin toss, which the Steelers won, and chose to receive. That means Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown will be getting things started right away.
Ben Tate started at running back, somewhat of a surprise. He got the carry for two yards. He split out wide on second down in the no huddle, and Roethlisberger threw it to him on the edge, getting by Lardarius Webb for a few yards. On third and four, Roethlisberger rolled out and found Markus Wheaton as the coverage chased the quarterback instead of sticking with the receiver.
Tate got the carry up the middle, following behind Ramon Foster for seven yards. On second and three, he burst up the middle for a good gain, but he fumbled, thankfully picked up by Brown. Josh Harris replaced Tate on the next snap, and that will likely continue to be the case for most of the night unless Harris fumbles too.
Harris couldn’t pick up anything on first down, and Roethlisberger was forced to throw to open space under pressure to set up third and 10. Brown split out of the backfield, came back to catch the ball behind him, and turned up the right sideline for 10 yards, making Webb miss for a critical first down on the opening drive.
Surprisingly, Mike Tomlin put Tate back in the game, though he too failed to pick up any yardage against the Ravens’ tough front. With five wide, Ngata broke through to sack Roethlisberger after he stepped up in the pocket. On third and 13, Heath Miller dropped the ball and kept the Steelers from getting into field goal territory, putting Brad Wing on the field. Ross Ventrone downed the ball on the seven-yard line.
Joe Flacco threw deep incomplete on first down from his own end zone. On second, Flacco tripped over the center with Steve McLendon penetrating, resulting in a tackle for a loss of five yards. On third and 15 from the two, Flacco was flushed out of the pocket and scrambled well short of the first.
Roethlisberger floated a pass over to Brown on first down for an eight-yard connection. Harris pounded it up the middle for about six yards across midfield on second down. David DeCastro missed his block pulling and got Harris tackled in the backfield. Martavis Bryant found his own way up the right sideline for seven yards to make it third and five. Bryant adjusted and came back to the ball on third down for the big conversion, going up to get it to the 20.
Roethlisberger felt the pressure and dumped it off to Harris, who just managed to get back to the line of scrimmage. On second and 10, Miller missed his block on Terrell Suggs, who buried Dri Archer for a loss of one. On third and long, Elvis Dumervil wrapped up the quarterback, beating Marcus Gilbert to make the field goal attempt harder. From 34 yards out, Shaun Suisham was good, putting the Steelers up on top near the end of the first quarter.
On first down, Flacco took a shot deep to Jacoby Jones, which Brice McCain played well, but Mike Mitchell was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Owen Daniels got open across midfield on the next play. Justin Forsett gained nine yards up the left side. He converted on the following play. Daniels picked up another 10 yards to the 26. Forsett gained another chunk inside the red zone. He found another seam down to the five-yard line.
On first and goal, Flacco faced instant pressure in his face as the ball floated harmlessly in a vacant part of the end zone. Bernard Pierce sliced through the middle of the defense for the score as the Ravens jumped ahead 7-3 early in the second quarter.
After short return from Wheaton, Brown picked up an 18-yard gain on the first play, but Roethlisberger was low back to Brown on the next play. On second and 10, Harris was bottled up immediately with nowhere to go. On third and 10, five wide, Roethlisberger pulled out a huge pump fake and tossed one to Miller wide open for a big gain and key conversion. Inside the 40, Bryant came around on a sweep for about six yards, cutting inside. Harris bowled ahead for three yards to set up third and one. Roethlisberger went deep to Brown instead, but he was pushed out of bounds in the end zone. The Ravens, nearly flagged for 12 men on the field on the play before, were flagged on the ensuing field goal attempt.
Roethlisberger threw it to Tate over the middle, who was hit immediately and crushed the corner, who himself was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Another big break.
On first and goal, Roethlisberger was tossed back 10 yards by Brandon Williams. On second and goal from the 19, Brown took a screen pass four yards after running up Darrius Heyward-Bey‘s block. Now third and goal from the 16, Bryant picked up 12 yards as Suisham added the three to make it 7-6.
Flacco had all day to throw on first down and found Steve Smith wide open for 20+ yards. After a short gain, Jason Worilds threw a punch on a first down run to put the Ravens nearly in field goal range. From the 30, Flacco took a shot out of bounds into the end zone to Smith. On second down, James Harrison nearly got to Flacco, but he was able to get the ball out. On third down, however, Daniels got free for 19 yards over Lawrence Timmons to the 11.
Finally, the Steelers stopped the run, tackling Forsett over one yard. On second down, Cameron Heyward hit Flacco as he threw to force an incompletion. On third and nine, Flacco was flushed out and tried to loft the ball over the defense, but William Gay got up to tip the pass away. The Ravens made it 10-6 with a little under three minutes to play.
The Steelers have been good closing out halves with points this season. Can they get some here? Wheaton lost the ball when he was already down, but was again tackled short of the 20. On first down, with five wide, Roethlisberger pump faked to set up Miller for a first down catch. He bought some more time and found Bryant for another first down as the two-minute warning hit. Archer ran into his own blocker, but got free for a seven-yard gain. On second and three from midfield, Heyward-Bey got the first down but could not get out of bounds. The Steelers used their second timeout.
Wheaton picked up the first down and got out of bounds on the next play near the 30. Roethlisberger was under pressure and threw it away. A short pass to Miller just got the Steelers into field goal range as the Ravens used a timeout with 40 seconds remaining. Suisham connected on his third field goal of the day between 45 and 50 yard to make it a 10-9 game.