Well, well, I guess Steelers Nation was good all year, if you double check under the Christmas tree you’ll find an AFC North Championship and the #3 AFC playoff seed neatly gift wrapped since the Pittsburgh Steelers mounted their epic 4th quarter comeback against the Baltimore Ravens. Happy holidays everyone, enjoy my gut reactions.
My first reaction is the saying “big players make big plays” never held more true than at the end of this game. Not only did Antonio Brown get open and have the presence of mind to realize that he was short of the end zone, he broke tackles from C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle and still had the reaction time to extend the ball past the goal line before his forward motion was whistled dead.
With the Steelers trailing by three points and driving in the Ravens’ red zone, the offense seemed calm and confident with their clock management. Which is slightly ironic given that if Brown had not gotten that ball in the end zone, Mike Tomlin would have received a lot of heat from the media and Steelers’ fan base for his situational football and clock management. The Steelers offense wouldn’t have had time to get off another play, so if Brown didn’t score the team would have lost, even though they were in range of an easy, game-tying field goal (the definition of poor time management had it happened). Tomlin has been gutsy through thick and thin and tonight it paid off with the whole football world watching on Christmas Day. He made the right call to go for the kill at the end of the regulation. Overtime against the Ravens would have been tough sledding. The Steelers’ defense was showing signs of fatigue; and extending the game into overtime would have given the Ravens a chance to swing the momentum back in their direction.
The defense, who didn’t have a turnover until the last play of the game, let the Ravens convert 9/17 on 3rd down, surrendered 22 first downs, 368 yards and 27 points still came up big when it counted. They bottled up the Ravens’ running game throughout the first half and only surrendered six points by halftime. Even though they were shorthanded up front they made life tough on the Ravens’ offensive unit.
The defenses’ biggest stand came at the end of the 3rd quarter after Ben Roethlisberger was intercepted by Mosley. That turnover gave the Ravens’ offense the ball inside the Steelers red zone while they were already ahead 17-10. A Ravens touchdown would have stretched their lead to 14 points, a number that looked insurmountable the way the offenses had played to that point in the game. The Steelers defense tightened up and got a three and out even though the Ravens offense was only 11 yards from the end zone. The Ravens had kick a field goal, and the Steelers’ defense managed to keep them in the game.
Nobody can think of this season’s defensive unit without thinking of James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons and Ryan Shazier. The three linebackers combined for 31 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one pass defended and picked up the slack for an undermanned defensive front. They stepped up and tackled both Kenneth Dixon and Terrence West (Kyle Juszczyk not so much) in the passing and running game, and didn’t let Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta pile up YAC when he was making receptions over the middle. They stepped up when the defensive front started to show fatigue, keep in mind the Ravens controlled the ball for 34:37.
Roethlisberger didn’t have a great game, but he got hot in the fourth quarter. Some of his throws weren’t as accurate as one would expect but he got the job done. The game winning drive was vintage Roethlisberger, and a holiday treat; stepping up in the pocket, evading pass-rushers, all while keeping his eyes down field to find an open receiver. I know he earned the nick name “Big Ben” because of his size, but the biggest part of his game today was his ability to keep making plays in the face of adversity. I thought the Steelers would have to win the time of possession battle, and the turnover battle if they were going to beat the Ravens. What do I know? They lost both and still won the game. The main reason being Roethlisberger’s play-making a leadership abilities.
Man, the offensive line was something else today. They did not allow the Ravens to sack Roethlisberger once. They may have gotten a little tired in the running game but the offensive line kept their blocking scheme’s simple and used both Chris Hubbard and Roosevelt Nix as extra blockers to spring Le’Veon Bell. The game-plan worked too, Bell racked up 122 rushing yards and a rushing touchdown against the second-best run defense in the league. It was easy to see why the Ravens’ were ranked so high; they were strong at the point of attack and even though they were facing a Pro Bowl running back they didn’t miss many tackles. Even though Bell had to stay in and pass block more than usual due to an onslaught of Ravens blitzes, he made his presence felt in the passing game too. He scored a receiving touchdown on a broken play in the red zone where Roethlisberger was flushed out of the pocket and Bell went from blocker to receiver to running back as he went from looking for somebody to block, to catching Roethlisberger’s pass, to powering the ball into the end zone for six. Both the offensive line and Bell had playoff worthy performances in the running and passing game.
Prior to kickoff everyone was wondering who would step up in Ladarius Green’s absence. While Xavier Grimble had a touchdown reception on the Steelers’ first offensive possession, Jesse James had four receptions for 49 yards. That includes the catch at the Ravens’ 3-yard line that set up Brown’s game-winning reception. But the contribution that was most “Green-like” came from Eli Rogers. He had four receptions for 84 yards including a 20-yard leaping grab with under a minute left in the game.
With the #3 seed under wraps, hopefully the Steelers use this week to get some people on both sides of the ball healthy. Nobody that’s irreplaceable should see extended time against the Cleveland Browns. This six-game winning streak has been tough sledding, especially the last two divisional games. The healthier the Steelers are the more dangerous they are!
Five games from the Super Bowl!
What are your gut reactions?
Classic Rock Song that sums things up: (you guessed it)