Steelers keep hope alive, win close one
By F. Dale Lolley, Staff writer, [email="email@example.com"]firstname.lastname@example.org[/email]
[url="http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/localsports/12-28-Steelers-Ravens-gamer"]http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/loc ... vens-gamer[/url]
PITTSBURGH - If the Pittsburgh Steelers are going down, they're going down fighting and winning.
Because of a five-game losing streak, which was snapped with a last-second victory over Green Bay seven days earlier, the Steelers entered Sunday with their playoff hopes on life support.
Pittsburgh, however, showed a strong pulse and dealt a blow to the playoff hopes of Baltimore by beating the Ravens, 23-20, at Heinz Field.
At 8-7, the Steelers are in a five-way tie with Baltimore, Denver, Houston and the New York Jets for the final two AFC playoff spots heading into the final week of the regular season.
"We've been in do-or-die for a while now," said quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who passed for 259 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"I think we're the cardiac kids or something. We're out here barely winning these games, but a win is a win. It doesn't matter how you get it."
The Ravens had two touchdowns negated by penalties in the third quarter, then veteran Derrick Mason - Baltimore's most reliable wide receiver - dropped a sure touchdown pass on the first play of the fourth quarter.
"Missed opportunities, I think, are the moral of this story," said Baltimore cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who had an interception return for a touchdown negated by an illegal-block penalty.
Baltimore, however, stayed in the game because of Ray Rice, who became the first running back to gain 100 rushing yards against the Steelers in 33 games. Rice had 141 yards on 30 carries. Unlike the first meeting between the teams - when Rice had several some long runs and lengthy pass receptions to lead the Ravens to a 20-17 overtime win - the Steelers held him to a long gain of only 16 yards.
"We knew he was going to get some yards against us, but we didn't want him breaking off the long gains," said Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who had a team-high 10 tackles, two sacks, a forced fumble and a pass deflection that led to Pittsburgh's first interception in seven games.
"We had to get him on the ground. And for the most part, I thought we did a decent job of that."
Woodley's hit on Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco led to an interception by linebacker James Farrior, ending the Ravens' opening possession. Farrior's return set up a 26-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.
The teams traded field goals before Pittsburgh pushed its advantage to 13-3 on a four-yard TD run by Rashard Mendenhall early in the second quarter. Flacco answered on the Ravens' next possession, throwing a 30-yard TD pass to tight end Todd Heap.
The Steelers took a 20-10 lead late in the first half after gaining possession at their own 6-yard line with two minutes remaining. Roethlisberger completed a 45-yard bomb to rookie Mike Wallace and finished off the drive with a 24-yard TD pass to Santonio Holmes.
Flacco again found Heap for a touchdown, a seven-yarder on the Ravens' opening possession of the second half. Billy Cundiff added a 35-yard field goal following Foxworth's interception to tie the score at 20-20.
Reed, however, booted a 38-yard field goal with 5:30 remaining to put the Steelers ahead for good. Woodley finished off the Ravens with a fourth-down sack that forced Flacco to fumble with 2:27 left.
Odds and end zones
If the five teams tied at 8-7 each win next weekend, the order of finish will be Denver, New York, Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh. ... Baltimore had 113 yards in penalties. ... Roethlisberger surpassed 4,000 yards passing, and Mendenhall topped 1,000 yards rushing. That gives the Steelers a 4,000-yard passer, two 1,000-yard receivers (Holmes and Hines Ward) and a 1,000-yard runner for the first time in franchise history. ... Rookie Ziggy Hood, the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick, had his first career sack.