Steelers get "defining win" in Baltimore
by M. Stewart
For most of Sunday night's big game in Baltimore, I was thinking about phrases and ideas in anticipation of writing about a Pittsburgh Steelers loss. Then late in the fourth quarter Troy Polamalu blitzed Ravens QB Joe Flacco from his blind side and caused a fumble. Lamar Woodley picked up the ball and came close to scoring a touchdown but couldn't get it in. The way Baltimore's defense had been playing, it wasn't clear whether the Steelers could convert the turnover for six points and take the lead. It was a now-or-never situation.
Well, they did convert the turnover for six, and the defense held. Final score: Pittsburgh 13 - Baltimore 10.
Now 9 -3, the Steelers have a one-game lead in the AFC North. More than that, they proved they could beat an elite opponent in a tough, must-win game in a hostile environment. And they did it with a wounded quarterback who refused to quit.
Except for cornerback Bryant McFadden, the Steelers defense played very well all night. McFadden's blown coverages were set to be the story of the game until Polamalu's blitz. None of the Ravens' mistakes was bigger than the failure to block Troy on that play. It undermined a remarkable Baltimore defensive effort that otherwise would have gone down as one of the great performances of the year in the biggest game of the year.
The Ravens neutralized Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward, whose drop on a big third-down play in the first half was a critical mistake in a hard-fought game. Baltimore's defense shut down the Steelers running attack, as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs almost single handedly controlled the line of scrimmage. As much as I hate Suggs, it seems unfitting that one of the most prominent highlights of the game came when he failed to bring down an injured Ben Roelthlisberger, allowing Ben to flip a pass out of bounds to avoid what would have been at least a seven-yard loss.
For once, the officials seemed reluctant to throw flags for personal fouls, but that doesn't mean the game wasn't full of infractions -- all of them on the Baltimore defense. After this game, it's absolutely clear to everyone around the league that the Steelers have been (and no doubt will continue to be) the target of completely unfair enforcement of new tackling rules.
Ben Roethlisberger suffered a broken nose early in the game due to a blow to the head -- a blow that would have drawn a flag were it any other NFL quarterback. Suggs slapped Ben in the head twice in a failed attempt to sack him in the second half. Again, any other quarterback. But the helmet-to-helmet hit that put tight end Heath Miller out of the game was the clearest evidence that the league is consciously acting against Pittsburgh on these types of fouls. This time it was in full view of a national audience. As Miller lay unconscious on the field for nearly five minutes, no official even so much as reach for his flag.
I'm not sure who made the hit, but to avoid getting caught red-handed cheating against Pittsburgh, the NFL will have to fine the guy later this week. But there was no penalty, and that penalty could have turned the game. Miller eventually walked off with a concussion. The replay showed that he could very well have broken his neck. It was a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit on a defenseless receiver. The officials on the field right next to the play are the only people who didn't see it.
In the end, it is especially satisfying to win a big game late in the season against your biggest rivals in their house, despite the bad officiating. It's impossible to tell how the rest of the season will play out, but if it turns out well for Pittsburgh, this victory in Baltimore will be the "defining win" that had been so elusive all year for the Steelers.
One last thing: I thought Chris Collinsworth did a fantastic job analyzing the game for NBC. The ex-Bengal star repeatedly pointed out (with appropriate video) how the interior play away from the ball made this or that play work. He was relentless in skewering the NFL for hypocrisy on illegal hits, just as he was quick to point out McFadden's "terrible" play in the Steelers secondary. His commentary was sophisticated, enlightening and bold.