“It was great for the game of football.” – Mike Tomlin
The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens’ rivalry is intense, hard-fought, and their players take it personally.
Statisticians generate reams and reams of data to document how closely matched these teams are. But you cannot reduce the beauty of this rivalry to numbers.
That’s because the Steelers and Ravens don’t play each other. They test each other.
- Sometimes the teams match wills.
- Sometimes the games become trails of attrition.
- Other times they test the other’s nerves.
- And yet other times the game simply tests which team has better playmakers.
In the 2010 AFC Divisional playoff game the Steelers and Ravens tested themselves in each of the above categories and in the process played one of the best NFL playoff games in history.
El Quarto Negro
The title is Spanish for “The Black Quarter” – in this instance, Spanish is just more poetic, which is fitting because the last 16 minutes of the first half were pure poetry – for the Ravens.
Memory can provide no darker quarter of post-season football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, there have been darker playoff moments (thanks Neil), but never has a playoff opponent dominated the Steelers as thoroughly for a quarter as the Ravens did.
- Ray Rice’s 14 yard scamper schooled William Gay and made Troy Polamalu look amateur
- Terrell Suggs strip-sack of Ben and Baltimore’s subsequent touchdown called the Steelers focus into question
- Mendenhall’s fumble and Todd Heap’s touchdown reeked of an impending rout
With Shaun Suisham’s missed field goal, the Steelers gave every appearance of being in full-self destruction mode.
“When you turn the ball over the way we did, a lot of teams usually give up, and it ends up being a blowout. But we stayed the course…” – Hines Ward
Prior to the game both Gene Collier and Dan Gigler of the Post-Gazette picked the Ravens to win, agreeing that it was “their time.” They appeared to be correct in as the third quarter began with a pittly 6 play Pittsburgh drive that ended with a punt.
James Harrison, Ziggy Hood, and Ryan Clark had other ideas. In short order James Harrison sacked Flacco, Hood stuffed Ray Rice for a one-yard loss, and Ryan Clark stripped the ball as LaMarr Woodley recovered.
After Mendenhall ripped off a 14 yard run, Ben Roethlisberger found Health Miller for a touchdown.
- Although still down by 7, in just five plays the Steelers delivered a message – we’re still playing and we’re playing to win.
Football is a game of momentum. James Harrison opened the ensuing defensive series with another sack. The Steelers continued to pressure Flacco and the Ravens went nowhere on their next two plays.
The momentum had swung the Steelers way, and now it was the Flacco and the Ravens whose nerves were tested.
- The next time Flacco had the ball he tossed an easy interception to Ryan Clark.
Four plays later Roethlisberger threw a laser to Hines Ward to tie the ball game.
- James Harrison pressured Flacco into an incompletion and then, on his next touch, Flacco fumbled the ball.
Eight plays later Shaun Suisham gave the Steelers the lead. The Steelers were winning the test of nerves.
The Crucible of Attrition
Steelers-Ravens contests are known for their hard hits, and this one was no exception. The Steelers lost Bryant McFadden early in the game.
William Gay stepped in, and made play after play, especially on the game’s final drive.
And, as they have done so all year long, the Steelers injuries forced the Steelers to play musical chairs on the offensive line.
Although the line played far from perfectly, giving up six sacks, the Steelers lineman never gave the impression that they were being overwhelmed, even as guys shifted from guard to tackle, and from tackle to guard.
Test of Wills
Art Rooney II raised eyebrows early in the off season when he declared that the Steelers must run better.
The Steelers rose to the occasion against the Ravens. Forget about Mendenhall’s paltry s 2.4 yards per carry.
Rooney stated that the team needed to be able to run the ball when it needed to, and they did just that:
- Isaac Redman converted a key first down on the Steelers opening touchdown drive
- Rashard Mendenhall muscled his way into the end zone not once, but twice in critical goal-line situations
- Ben Roethlisberger willed his way to a first down on 4th and 1 during the Steelers go-ahead field goal drive.
The Baltimore Ravens fought hard on every play. No one should question their desire or effort. But in a game where the Steelers defense limited Baltimore to 126 yards of total offense, certainly no Baltimore Raven can argue that they wanted this one more than the Steelers.
Putting Play Makers to the Test
It is ironic that in a year where Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace established themselves as one of the league’s most deadly QB-WR tandems, that Wallace was not Big Ben’s target on the game’s biggest play.
Ben Roethlisberger played a fabulous game. Under relentless pressure all day he delivered. After having been sacked an throwing incomplete, Big Ben faced a 3rd and 19 with just over two minutes left to play.
And, if his post-game comments are to be believed, he more or less told Antonio Brown to run deep and other wise “go out and get open.”
Roethlisberger heaved a 54 yard bomb, Brown got open and caught the ball, gaining control just as his momentum took him out of bounds. Five plays later the Mendenhall ran it in from two yards out to put the Steelers ahead for good.
Bring on the New York Jets
The Steelers and Ravens played a game of the ages as Pittsburgh passed each of the tests administered by Baltimore.
But based on their last game at Heinz Field the New York Jets figure to offer a different sort of test.
That’s fine. Because the Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-0 in the playoffs against teams who beat them at home during the regular season!