PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers have found every possible way to win, and they keep outdoing themselves.
In a wildly entertaining game, an uncharacteristic track meet in the AFC North, the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens went after each other all night, and probably could have played another 60 and scored another 60.
But Pittsburgh’s furious rally in the fourth quarter sealed a 39-38 win — clinching the AFC North and an eighth straight win overall — thanks to four straight scoring drives late. Ben Roethlisberger was brilliant, passing for 506 yards without much of a running game.
“Championship teams find ways to win,” Roethlisberger said.
Another late-game dime between Antonio Brown and Roethlisberger for 34 yards down the sideline set up Chris Boswell‘s 46-yard field goal with 46 seconds left. Though the offense left Baltimore and kicker Justin Tucker with some time, T.J. Watt chased down Joe Flacco for a strip-sack and a clock runoff — a fitting end to a game stocked with wild moments.
In the span of 60 minutes, the Steelers went from one of the league’s hottest team to a hot mess, then hot again.
The problem: A defense that had hoped to be primed and ready for a New England showdown appears to be in a shaky state once again, and badly missing Ryan Shazier. Baltimore nearly stripped all their momentum away, but alas the Steelers (11-2) still have an inside track on home-field advantage.
Roethlisberger, Brown and Le’Veon Bell (three touchdowns) all were brilliant, and helped offset the numbers:
The Ravens’ 17-point third quarter capped a 31-6 run over 21 minutes, 24 seconds in the second and third quarters, shocking numbers from the league’s 30th-ranked offense.
The Ravens’ 379 yards through three quarters was their most in an entire game in Pittsburgh under John Harbaugh.
This is not the way to be trending entering a matchup with the league’s best quarterback.
“We gave up close to 40 points — that’s a terrible performance,” linebacker Vince Williams said. “We have to do better than that. …We put ourselves in some bad situations.”
Not all the Steelers’ defensive problems can be traced back to the absence of Shazier, who can’t control missed tackles and blown assignments and costly penalties. On a crucial fourth-quarter stand, for example, second-year defensive backs Artie Burns and Sean Davis (who had a nightmarish evening) spotted Baltimore 35 yards in penalties to set up a Buck Allen touchdown.
But the defense clamped down late with several stops and a crucial three-and-out early in the fourth, stopping the madness.
Shazier’s absence applies more pressure on defensive ends Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, who helped stop the running game late, allowing more pressure to find Flacco. Alex Collins finished with 120 yards but didn’t produce a rush longer than 8 yards in the fourth quarter.
After scoring on each of its first four drives, Pittsburgh’s offense put up 21 yards on its next three drives as Baltimore brought more blitz pressure.
The Steelers responded with three consecutive length-of-field drives and nine points.
Bell recalls linebacker Vince Williams sitting next to him, dejected after giving up another second-half score.
“I told him next time you get out there, just stop them because we have to get out there and score, and then we are going to score again,” Bell said. “He looked at me in the face and said, ‘I got you,’ and that’s exactly what happened. You must have confidence in your team. You must believe in the coaches and players.”
The late surge was emblematic of the Steelers’ season: offsetting sluggish play with jolts of electricity. That’s usually enough. The lapses are always tougher to overcome against Baltimore.
So, what’s next?
“We’re a team that’s showing a lot of mental toughness, a lot of mental fortitude as far as what we need to get done,” guard Ramon Foster said. “Anything thrown in our way, we’ve manned the storm so far. We just have to keep going. Nobody stops this boat.”