While we know in hindsight that the Pittsburgh Steelers winning their season finale against the Baltimore Ravens would not have changed the end result of their missing the postseason, it’s always preferable to win the games you’re in, minus draft considerations. And the Steelers failed to do so in spectacular fashion that day.
At least, in the final 31 minutes of the game, because things started to rapidly fall about at that point. Even head coach Mike Tomlin after the game acknowledged that the late fumble by Devlin Hodges that allowed the Ravens to get a short field and punch in their only offensive touchdown of the day proved to be the pivotal moment of the game.
“You can point to several spaces, but that turnover at the end of the first half that they were able to turn into seven before the break was significant, no doubt”, he said. The defense had just gotten the ball, and the offense hoped to put points on the board and double up after getting the ball back to start the third quarter.
Instead, as mentioned, Hodges took a sack and lost the ball. It was second and 10 from the Steelers’ 45 when Matt Judon chased him down and dropped him for an 11-yard loss, knocking the ball out. Michael Pierce recovered at the 25-yard line and was tackled down at the 23. The Ravens would score a touchdown four plays later.
“Just got to hold on to the ball”, Hodges said of that play following the game, for his own part. It’s one thing to take a sack in that situation, and another entirely to also lose the ball on top of that. “Pocket awareness, two hands on the ball. Guy made a great play, but I could still do better about taking care of the football”, he admitted.
At the time of the incident, the score was just 9-7 in favor of the Ravens, who had been held only to field goals on three of their first four possessions, the other being a punt. Suddenly, in just 24 seconds, they went up by two scores, 16-7.
Baltimore’s offense would only add another field goal in the second half, but Hodges would also be docked for a safety due to intentional grounding, and punter Jordan Berry would first muff a punt and then fumble the ball after fielding it again, the Ravens recovering in the end zone for a special teams touchdown, to provide the ultimate 28-10 margin.
The Steelers offense had just one drive all day travel more than 28 yards. Only four drives lasted more than four plays. Only three drives lasted more than two minutes and 15 seconds. Seven of their 12 drives didn’t even last a minute.
So yeah, Hodges needs to hold on to the ball in that situation. But there sure were an awful lot of other problems on the day as well.