Steelers win streak halted in 23-20 loss to Ravens

BY foxsports • November 7, 2011

Pondering a chance to put the Baltimore Ravens on the ropes, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin lost track of time.

His hesitation cost the Steelers the inside track to the AFC North title.

A late delay of game penalty pushed the Steelers out of field goal position, and when Pittsburgh punted instead the Ravens took advantage by driving 92 yards for the game-winning touchdown in a 23-20 victory on Sunday night.

Torrey Smith hauled in a 26-yard pass from Joe Flacco with 8 seconds remaining to snap Pittsburgh's four-game winning streak and allowed the Ravens to sweep their rivals for the first time in five years.

''That's a tough defeat for us,'' Tomlin said. ''We didn't make enough plays to win the game.''

Just one during Baltimore's 13-play drive would have done the trick.

Instead the Steelers (6-3) head into a showdown with surprising Cincinnati next week wondering how the NFL's top pass defense let Flacco lead the Ravens the length of the field in the final 2:24.

''We had a four-point lead and our defense was on the field,'' Tomlin said. ''As you can see, Joe Flacco and company did a nice job.''

Flacco finished with 300 yards passing as the Ravens exorcised some demons the same field where two of their last three seasons have ended with playoff losses to their rivals.

''This Steelers-Ravens game is a game for men,'' Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. ''This is a game for big men. You've got to shine bright in this game if you want to win this game. And nobody shined brighter than Joe Flacco in this game.''

The Steelers appeared to be in control after rallying from a 10-point deficit to take a 20-16 lead with less than 5 minutes to go when Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a 25-yard score.

Pittsburgh's defense held once and the Steelers moved in range for Shaun Suisham to attempt a 47-yard field goal that could have bumped its lead to seven.

Instead the Steelers wasted precious seconds deciding whether to kick or go for it, and when the flag was throw for delay of game the penalty moved Pittsburgh out of field goal range.

''I accept responsibility for that,'' Tomlin said. ''There was some hesitation on my part.''

Flacco, who fumbled midway through the fourth quarter to set up Roethlisberger's strike to Wallace, atoned with 2:16 of brilliance.

He converted a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 49 with less than a minute to go to keep Baltimore's hopes alive, and Smith made up for a drop with the biggest play of his young career.

The Steelers got the ball back with 8 seconds left but Antonio Brown fumbled a lateral from Wallace and the Ravens poured onto the Heinz Field turf in celebration.

How excited were the Ravens? Harbaugh received a cut on his chin after being dropped by Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome.

''We swept them, but don't be fooled - we'll see them again in January,'' Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ''This is the only team in the world that can play like we play and match us blow for blow.''

With one dramatic drive, Baltimore ended Pittsburgh's surge and moved into a tie with the Bengals atop the AFC North at 6-2.

Flacco, who had come under fire from his teammates for inconsistent play, completed 28 of 47 passes and kept his head late after spending much of the second half trying to avoid Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison.

The All-Pro sacked Flacco three times in his first game back after missing a month with a fractured orbital bone around his right eye, but Pittsburgh's pass rush disappeared on Baltimore's final drive. Given time to work, Flacco picked apart the NFL's top-ranked pass defense.

Gay couldn't stop Flacco from hitting Anquan Boldin on the crucial fourth down and then couldn't stay in front of Smith on the game-winning play.

''That was, on my part, the worst drive ever,'' Gay said.

And perhaps the finest moment of Flacco's career.

''You don't really have anything to lose,'' Flacco said. ''You either score or you don't score. ... You take a couple of shots at the end zone and see what comes of it.''

The Steelers trailed by 10 going into the fourth quarter but roared back behind Roethlisberger. Rashard Mendenhall scored from 1 yard out to pull Pittsburgh within 16-13 and Harrison swatted the ball out of Flacco's hand on Baltimore's next possession.

Gay recovered and Roethlisberger put the Steelers in front when he rolled right to avoid pressure and threw in the direction of Brown. Wallace streaked in front of his teammate for the score and Pittsburgh appeared to be on its way to avenging a 28-point loss to the Ravens in the season opener.

Roethlisberger finished with 330 yards passing to become the first Pittsburgh quarterback to top 300 in three consecutive games, but the Steelers' defense couldn't contain Flacco at the end.

Suggs picked off Roethlisberger's pass in the third quarter to preserve a 9-6 Baltimore lead. A dozen plays later, Rice darted in from 4 yards out to put the Ravens up 16-6.

The NFL's top-ranked defense couldn't make it hold up, though for once Flacco bailed the defense out in a relationship that's often been vice versa.

Now it's the Ravens, not the Steelers, who head into the second half of the season with the upper hand.

''We can only focus on the things that we can control and that's the next game,'' Pittsburgh linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. ''That's what's most important right now.''

NOTES: Steelers WR Hines Ward left in the second quarter with concussion-like symptoms after a helmet-to-helmet hit by Baltimore LB Ray Lewis. Tomlin called the injury ''minor.'' ... Pittsburgh punter Jeremy Kapinos averaged 33.3 yards on three kicks a day after being signed to replace injured Dan Sepulveda, who is out for the season with a knee injury. ... Rice, who ran for more than 100 yards against the Steelers in the opener, was held to 43 yards on 18 carries. ... Smith finished with five receptions for 71 yards.

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