The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the 2013 season facing a plethora of “if’s.” IF the offensive line can stay healthy…. IF the running game can be reestablished…. IF the youngsters brought on to replace aging Super Bowl veterans can deliver….
The Steelers 0-4 start revealed that the answers to those individual “if’s” were all in the negative. Worse yet, the collective meaning of provided a portrait of a team learning to lose.
- Last week vs. the Jets, the Steelers managed to break that cycle.
But one win in the NFL means a little. The “On Any Given Sunday” cliché holds currency in the NFL vernacular for a reason.
What the Steelers victory over Baltimore showed was that life in the NFL is a series of “Ifs” and the question isn’t so much if the answers are negative or positive, but in how you deal with them.
Setting a Tone
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens yield nothing to the rest of the NFL when it comes to the intensity of their rivalry. The NFL Flims writers who are scribes of era of Vince Lombardi and the Ice Bowl could not have scripted Steelers-Ravens games better:
- Hard hitting
- Down to the wire action
- Dramatic, game-changing plays
- Overcoming odds
Ray Lewis, James Harrison, Ed Reed, and Hines Ward may have moved on, but the Steelers and Ravens showed early on that even their absence would not change the tempo of this game, as so eloquently illustrated by the third and fourth series of the game.
After exchanging punts, the Steelers got the ball on their 40 thanks to an 18 yard punt return by Antonio Brown. With Marcus Gilbert injured, Todd Haley went to his bag of tricks, which included reverses to Brown, splitting Ben Roethlisberger wide, and pounding Le’Veon Bell either via handoff or direct snap.
- The Steelers rewarded the creativity of their offensive coordinator with a touchdown on a shovel pass to Health Miller.
The Ravens of looked to answer quickly, and the Steelers they marched all the way down the field to the Steelers 26.
In what was one of the key plays of the game, on 3rd and 1 Steve McLendon overpowered the Ravens offensive line to completely stuff Bernard Pierce for a one yard loss.
- The Ravens responded with a field goal, but the Steelers responded in kind.
For the second time in the game, the Steelers special teams came up big (how often do we say that) as Felix Jones returned the kickoff for 42 yards. The Jones return and the McLendon stuff set the tone for this game:
- Like other Steelers-Ravens game, this one was going to be about who wanted it more – and a little something else
The Steelers took Jone’s long return and moved all the way to the 16, but then the drive stalled, and the Steelers had to settle for a field goal. Somewhere along the way they also lost Marcus Gilbert, leading Guy Whimper to enter the game, splitting time with Mike Adams, who was also reporting as an eligible receiver.
Normally you’d criticize settling for field goals instead of touchdowns in the Red Zone – but if you get lemons, make lemonade.
- The next drive it was the Steelers defense’s turn to drive that lesson home.
After the Steelers field goal the Ravens again moved smartly down the field. They made it to the Steelers 34 – just inside field goal range and a chance to bring the game to within 4. On 3rd and 8 LaMarr Woodley sent Joe Flacco to the turf, putting the Ravens out of field goal range.
- Unlike the Steelers, the Ravens were unable to squeeze any juice out of their lemon.
But the Steelers were in a giving mood. Looking to burn out the clock en route to a half-closing score, Heath Miller fumbled, giving the Ravens the ball at the Pittsburgh’s 38 with 39 seconds to go and two time outs.
- That’s a very, very dangerous gift to give the defending Super Bowl Champions.
But the Steelers defense clamped down, holding the Ravens to three. Both Pittsburgh and Baltimore got a little juice out of that exchange, but the real question was who learned the lesson better?
While the Steelers were attempting to close out the first half, Behind the Steel Curtain Editor Neal Coolong offered this precautionary tweet:
Big sack by 56. Need to keep #Ravens offense off the field the rest of the half. They figure things out most second halves, need a cushion
— Neal Coolong (@NealCoolong) October 20, 2013
You don’t ascend to the status of defending Super Bowl Champions for by accident. The Baltimore Ravens title defense has been rocky, but they’ve made second half adjustments.
In the first half the Steelers protected Ben Roethlisberger fairly well…
- In the second half the Ravens got to him.
In the first half the Steelers got pressure on Flacco…
- In the second half, not so much.
In the first half the Steelers ran the ball efficiently in general and with authority at times…
- In the second half, the Ravens took much of that away.
In the first half the Steelers managed to strike Red Zone gold once, and shut out the Ravens…
- In the second half the Ravens turned the tables and reversed the Red Zone score card.
In the Ravens final possession Joe Flacco showed the NFL why he belongs in the NFL’s 100 million dollar QB club. He was perfect. He completed all of one of his passes. He converted three third downs. He burned over seven minutes off the clock.
- Flacco willed the Ravens to a tying touchdown
Just Wanting IT Isn’t Enough….
And so it was. The Ravens had just tied the game with 1:58 remaining, and Emmanuel Sanders was deep into his own end zone to return a kick. Sanders fielded the kick. He took off. He didn’t stop until he got to the End Zone. Touchdown Steelers!
- But not so fast.
Sanders stepped out of bounds. Steelers Nation wanted a touchdown. What it needed, however, was a game winning score. Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery for 7. He hit Antonio Brown for 13, and then again for 11. Bell run up the middle for no gain. Shaun Suisham took the field to attempt a 42 yard field goal.
Suisham split the uprights.
And the Pittsburgh Steelers won 19-16. And therein lies the lesson.
On their final two possessions, the Steelers and Ravens both demonstrated how much they “wanted it” Flacco with his poise, Sanders with his return. Both teams encountered their share of adversity. Both teams make mistakes.
- But the Steelers won because they transformed adversity into advantage more consistently than Baltimore.
And in that, for whatever flaws they put on display vs. the Ravens, this group of Steelers have completed another lesson in the art of learning to win football games.
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