2 Critical Plays Define the Steelers Thanksgiving Loss to Ravens

Reflecting on the Thanksgiving 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers-Baltimore Ravens rivalry brings into focus any number of facts and figures:

Each of those facts is interesting. Each enlightens Steelers Nation about both the quality and character of this 2013 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Each fact could serve as fodder for would be Steelers apologists or excuse makers. In the end however, all of them are negated by two other numbers:

  • ZERO and 2

That’s ZERO as in the Steelers margin for error and 2 errors that they absolutely could not afford to make.

Steelers Continue Thanksgiving Where They Left Off….

In his pregame press conference Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin talked about how it was an honor to play on Thanksgiving. An honor it might be in the abstract, but in truth Thanksgiving has been anything but kind to the Steelers in the modern era.

  • 1983 Brought the “Thanksgiving Day Massacre” in the form of the 45-3 loss to Detroit
  • 1991 Saw Dallas make Pittsburgh regret not drafting Emmitt Smith
  • 1998 Saw the Steelers screw themselves by letting Detroit tie a game it had no business tying, only to be screwed by NFL Phil Luckett’s in ability to distinguish the “heads” and “tails” in spoken word format

And so thus it was that the sum of the Steelers first half possessions would go, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt. All season long, the Detroit game notwithstanding, the Steelers have started slow out of the gate and for the first 30 minutes, the Steelers offense looked every bit as inept as the 1998 version that gave a 4-7 Lions team its final victory.

Ben Roethlisberger’s passes were too often off target, the Steelers failed to convert third downs, and the Todd Haley stubbornly kept trying to run Le’veon Bell when their was no room to rush….

Steelers Find Second Half Spark

Yet, for as poorly as they played in the first 30 minutes, the Steelers were only down 10-0. Hardly an indelible deficit. The Steelers could have folded, could have allowed thoughts of a warm locker room and extended long weekend to crowd out their competitive desire.

  • Instead, they did as they have all season long, they dug in and fought back.

The Steelers defense held Baltimore to another field goal and the offense went immedatley to work. Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 20. Bell ran for six, Miller caught for two. Then we saw why Haley stuck with the run, as Bell ripped off a 46 yard run that took things down to the Baltimore 8. Two plays later, Big Ben connected with Emmanuel Sanders in the end zone.

The Steelers couldn’t score again in the 3rd quarter but, the defense held Baltimore out of the end zone, limiting the damage to two field goals. 19-7 isn’t a pretty score to be facing at the beginning of a 4th quarter divisional game on the road, it its also not a death sentence.

And the Steelers had plenty of life in them, as Roethlisberger, Miller, Bell, Sanders and Antonio Brown fought down to the Raven’s one, where Bell ran it in.

  • The defense, as it had done all night, limited Baltimore to another field goal, bringing the score to 22-14, with 5:37 play.

A touchdown and a two point conversion would give the Steelers a chance to tie. Could they do it? Franchise precedent exists. Vs. New England, in less than 3 minutes the ’97 Steelers secured a turn over, converted a 4th down, scored a touchdown, made the two point conversion to tie and ultimately win a game they never led in regulation.

Regarldess of the final outcome, the Steelers final drive will remain the stuff of legend. Roethlisberger, Miler, Brown, Bell and Jerricho Cotchery all made spectacular plays. The Steelers lost Bell and center Fernando Velasco to injury in the process. On the drive the officals signaled “touchdown” twice, only to overturn each decision via replay. The Steelers of course did score a touchdown with yet another Roethlisberger to Cotchery Red Zone connection.

  • Alas, it was all for naught as Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t hold on to the two point conversion.

The story, however, does not end there.

2 Critical Plays

To their credit, both Roethlisberger and Sanders took blame for the failed conversion. But the failed conversion really wasn’t the root cause of the Steelers loss. You can trace those root causes down to the Steelers third possession of the first half and the Raven’s second possession of the second half.

On that fateful third possession, the Steelers made their only meaningful progress of the first half, reaching the Raven’s 32. Mike Tomlin opted to try a field goal, but Shaun Suisham’s timing was off. The result was an 11 yard loss.

  • 31 yards later the Ravens kicked their first of five field goals of the night.

A 50 yard field goal outdoors in the cold is no shoe in for Suisham, but it would have provided the difference. A well placed punt could have had a similar effect.

The Steelers of  course got a second chance, but saw that evaporate as Jacoby Jones answered the Steelers first touchdown with a 73 yard return that only Cortez Allen saved from doing more damage. (Those interested in Tomlin’s side step, for which he should be punished, click here for some common sense as to whether or not it was intentional).

The Ravens only made 7 yards on the ensuring drive.

  • If the Steelers stop Jones before midfield, the field goal probably never happens.

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers looked the total NFL humiliation that comes with an 0-4 start in the eyes and fought back to the verge of playoff contention. For all of their valor, they left themselves zero margin for error.

Unfortunately they made two critical ones vs. a rebounding Ravens team. Credit the Ravens for playing hard fought, turnover free football and building up a 22 point lead in their own merits. And credit them for doing what so often is the deciding factor in football games – taking advantage of your opponents errors.

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