The Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday Night loss to the Baltimore Ravens left Steelers Nation reeling. And for good reason, the Steelers lost 26-6 and left M&T Stadium having now gone 50-9 since opening the season 27-3 vs. Cleveland.
- Worse yet, Pittsburgh suffered from self-inflicted wounds on both sides of the ball.
But late in the 4th quarter the Steelers defense might have, just might have, offered a ray of hope.
The Goal Line Stand
For those who with an appetite for drama, the world of sports provides plenty of surrogates for the High Noon showdown.
Baseball gives us star pitchers vs. superior sluggers with 2 outs and the bases loaded in the 9th. Tennis gives us match points. Soccer gives us penalty shootouts. And football gives us the goal line stand. Each of these contests combine elements of strategy, psychological subterfuge and athleticism.
- But the goal line stand offers something more – brute force fused with will power.
- More often than not, the goal line stand is determined by who wants it more.
And so it was that the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves standing at their own one yard line late in the 4th quarter, after Justin Forsett had galloped through the Steelers front seven for 41 yards only stopped thanks to the efforts of Michael Mitchell and Cortez Allen.
Things were bleak. Down 23 to 6, 30 to 6 appeared to be a mere formality for the once mighty Steelers defense. Here’s what followed:
1st Down – Forsett, off of the right guard, stopped by Jarvis Jones – no gain
2nd Down – Joe Flacco, up the middle, stopped by Brett Keisel and Cameron Heyward – no gain
3rd Down – Successful sneak by Joe Flacco nullified by a penalty, ball back to 6
3rd Down – Jacoby Jones around left end for two yards stopped by Ryan Shazier
4th Down – Baltimore kicks a field goal
- Now let’s keep this crystal clear: Preventing a touchdown to get to 26-6 instead of 30-6 does not a championship defense signal.
But let’s also add context.
In the same stadium, exactly 3 years earlier, the Ravens called a fake extra point while up 27-7. Baltimore had just gashed Pittsburgh’s defense for 41 yards. The ball was at the 1. Flacco had enjoyed plenty of success passing, and the Steelers hadn’t touched him all night. Baltimore had already scored on a 1 yard pass and could have done it again.
But instead, John Harbaugh sought to drive home a point.
- Harbaugh called four straight running plays because he wanted the Ravens to impose their will.
Mike Tomlin’s defense displayed zero intention of complying, and dominated the line of scrimmage on 3 straight non-penalty plays. At a very minimum it shows that these Dick LeBeau defenders retain some measure of pride.
Whether the defense’s ability to impose its will late in the 4th quarter of an already decided contest atrophies into an isolated incident or serves as a seed that can spur the Steelers defense into respectability remains to be seen.
But it offered Steelers Nation a welcome sight on an otherwise dismal night.