Steelers edge Ravens, 23-20
Playoff hopes remain alive
Monday, December 28, 2009
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

They had it in their hands and let it slip away, dominated the other team and had little to show for it, kicked away opportunity after opportunity and came up just short at the end.

The Steelers of 2009 experienced plenty of that, except yesterday they were not the ones on the can-you-believe-we-just-lost side. This time, for a change, they were on the wrong end of most everything but the score.

The final: Baltimore Ravens dominate; Steelers win, 23-20.

"We just need enough plays to win," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Style points, we're way past that; we're just trying to stay alive."

The Ravens outgained the Steelers 323 yards to 286 and cruised on the ground as Ray Rice, with 141 yards rushing, ended a 36-game streak in which the Steelers had not allowed a 100-yard rusher.

But as the Steelers did so many times in their recent five-game losing streak, the Ravens (like the Steelers, 8-7) blew chances and could not get that one play to put them over the hump.

Thus, the Steelers' playoff hopes continue, albeit still in jeopardy even if they finish 9-7 with three consecutive wins after playing next Sunday at Miami. They need help, lots of it, to make it as a wild-card playoff team.

"This is our bed, but I like how they're laying in it," Tomlin said. "Not dead yet."

Baltimore, which could have secured a playoff spot with a victory and one in Oakland next week, could only blame itself for this loss. The Ravens had two touchdowns called back by penalties plus an interception at the end that would have given them life. And Derrick Mason dropped a pass in the end zone.

"You can point the finger at whatever you want," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said.

Just the facts, then? The Ravens wiped out the Steelers' 10-point halftime lead on Joe Flacco's 7-yard touchdown pass to Todd Heap and Billy Cundiff's 35-yard field goal.

And then, what seemed like a Christmas miracle -- the Steelers' defense shut out the Ravens in the fourth quarter, the same defense that had blown six fourth-quarter leads in their seven losses.

"We know if we just do our part, it gives us an opportunity to win football games," safety Ryan Clark said.

Jeff Reed kicked a 35-yard field goal, his third, with 5:25 left to provide the winning margin.

"You've got to make significant plays at significant moments," Tomlin said. "When we've lost, it's because we haven't; when we won, it's because we have."

Among those significant moments was LaMarr Woodley's hit on Flacco in the first quarter as the quarterback was throwing. The ball came out fluttering and linebacker James Farrior intercepted it -- the Steelers' first interception in seven games.

Although given a first down at Baltimore's 8 after Farrior's return, the Steelers were held to Reed's 26-yard field goal.

The Ravens drove 64 yards on the next series that ended with Cundiff's 27-yard field goal. Reed made it three series, three scores when he kicked a 39-yard field goal to push the Steelers back on top, 6-3.

Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 4-yard run early in the second quarter to extend the Steelers' lead to 13-3. Mendenhall surpassed 1,000 yards rushing on that carry but he finished with just 36 yards on 17 carries.

Baltimore scored its first touchdown on a 30-yard pass from Flacco to Heap, his first of two.

The Steelers responded with a late first-half drive to go ahead 20-10. Taking over at their 6 with two minutes to go, the Steelers drove 94 yards to score on Roethlisberger's 24-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes with 35 seconds left in the half. One cornerback blitzed, one safety fell down and the other safety could not catch Holmes, who caught the pass at the 17 and ran it in.

"I shouldn't have thrown it," Roethlisberger said. "We were completely wrong in every way except that we scored a touchdown."

Roethlisberger became the first quarterback in team history to top 4,000 yards passing in a season, surpassing the mark in the second quarter, but he and the offense were mostly silent in the second half. He was 13 of 19 for 191 yards in the first half and finished 17 of 33 for 259.

His interception helped the Ravens tie it after Heap's second touchdown brought them within 20-17. Cornerback Domonique Foxworth picked off the pass at the Steelers' 46 and ran it in for what looked like a Baltimore lead. However, a holding call brought it back to the 37, and the Ravens managed only a field goal to tie, 20-20.

On Baltimore's next series, Willis McGahee ran 32 yards around end for a touchdown but that too was wiped out by a penalty. This time, the Ravens got no points out of it after Mason's dropped touchdown pass and two more penalties that pushed them back to the 41.

In all, the Ravens were penalized 11 times for 113 yards, the Steelers just four for 20. That more than made up for Baltimore's edge in total offensive yards.

"Obviously, when you have penalties called against you, it doesn't help you," said Flacco, who was a pedestrian 13 of 25 for 166 yards.

Both quarterbacks were sacked four times, with LaMarr Woodley getting two more to go with his forced interception to continue his torrid second half of the season.

The final of the Ravens' lost chances occurred when less than two minutes left, safety Tom Zbikowski intercepted a Roethlisberger pass and returned it 38 yards to the Steelers' 42. However, Baltimore was penalized for illegal contact before the play -- a fact Roethlisberger said he knew before he threw the pass and decided to take a deep shot.

Both teams enter their final games on the road with chances to make the playoffs.

"The only thing you can control is what you can control," Woodley said, "and that's the last games you have."
For more on the Steelers, read Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at [url=""][/url]. Ed Bouchette can be reached at [email=""][/email].

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