Dom’s Saturday History Special, Week 1: Steelers vs. Ravens

10 of 11

December 27, 2009

Steelers Stay Alive In Classic Game

Steelers 23 – Ravens 20

Just words cannot explain the ridiculousness of the late season slide that saw the Pittsburgh Steelers lose 5 games in a row in 2009.  Without Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, the Defense crumbled in the face of adversity and by Week 15 the Steelers were sitting at 6-7 and on the outside looking in with regards to a playoff spot.  Luckily, and in one of the most amazing statistical games ever put up by a QB in N.F.L. history, Ben Roethlisberger threw  500 yards for 3 TD’s including a last second sideline beauty to Rookie sensation Mike Wallace with no time left to defeat the Packers 37-36 at Heinz Field.  At 7-7 the Steelers still weren’t mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, and with a showdown between them and Baltimore (who was also fighting for a Wild Card spot) in Week 16 the stage was set for another classic.

Because I had to work that day early at the Bookstore, I was extremely nervous and kept pacing around the register muttering how the Steelers needed this game and could still stay in the race with a big W that day.  I thank whatever deity was responsible, because we weren’t very busy in the first half and the game was relatively in the Steelers’ favor despite it being a see-saw affair.  The 1st Quarter saw the Steelers ahead 6-3 with Jeff Reed nailing two Field Goals and Billy Cundiff kicking one.  The 2nd Quarter however saw a “scoring barrage,” well as much of a scoring barrage as you can get with these two teams.

Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 4 yard TD run to extend the lead to 13-3 Steelers.  Yet the Ravens drove right back and answered on a nice mix of Ray Rice running the ball (he had over 140 yards on the ground that day, ended the Steelers streak at 33 games of not allowing a 100 yard runner, and illustrated again just how special of a back he is) and Todd Heap just absolutely tooling William Gay, Deshea Townsend, and the rest of the secondary.  Heap eventually hauled in a 30 yard pass from Flacco to cut the deficit to 13-10, but the Steelers came right back with a vengeance and mounted a drive of their own to counter.  Being able to sustain the drive because of a Ravens penalty that would have made the Steelers punt from their own end zone made the 94 yard march that much sweeter.  What made me even more happy was the fact that the Offense got the Touchdown in the final 2 minutes of the 1st Half, Mike Wallace caught a beautiful bomb to get the Steelers out from their own goal line, and the drive ended in a 24 yard pass to Sansmokio from Big Ben.  The play was truly special because Ben read a CB Blitz and so did Sansmokio.  In sync like they normally were when they were in the Steel City, Ben checked and then threw a strike to Holmes who outraced Tom Zbikowski and Dawan Landry to the end zone to put the Steelers ahead 20-10 at the Half.

I was happy but nervous at the same time during the Half.  Happy on one hand because the Steelers were winning, but nervous like always because those pesky freakin Ravens never stay on the canvas for long.  And like always, the Ravens had something cooked up for the 2nd Half.  The Ravens drew first blood in the 3rd Quarter when Flacco took the team down the field and kept picking on poor William Gay and hit Heap for his 2nd Touchdown of the day to cut the Steelers’ lead to 20-17.  A INT by Domonique Foxworth that was returned for 6 almost put the Ravens ahead 24-20, but as was the recurring theme all day, the Ravens were done in by stupid penalties.  An illegal block on the return by Terrell Suggs nullified the Touchdown and the Ravens were forced to settle for a Cundiff Field Goal which tied the game at 20.

By that time my stomach was doing somersaults.  How the hell could they let their biggest rivals back in the game like that?!  The Steelers had literally fallen and couldn’t get up.  I had almost forgotten that I had agreed to meet some family members at Which Wich on my hour long break so we went there and watched the game.  Since they were all Steelers fans it had a calming effect on me despite the fact that it appeared the Steelers and their Defense were unraveling in front of us.  As the 4th Quarter started we all had our eyes fixed on the game.  The Ravens put a nice drive together and advanced the ball to the Steelers 32.  Then it appeared they had won the game after a 32 yard TD run by Willis McGahee.  Or did they?  The TD was negated on a holding penalty.  Later in the drive, Flacco found Mason without a soul around him in the end zone.  The problem was that the sure-handed and veteran Mason dropped the ball like it was a greased pig!  The Steelers just kept catching all the breaks at the right time.  On the next play the Ravens had another penalty that ended up moving them back even further.  After a personal foul penalty on the next play the Ravens were out of Field Goal range and were forced to punt.  This was the drive that I believe not only killed any chance of a Ravens victory, but emboldened the Steelers to go for the kill and win the game.

Later in the Quarter Big Ben and the Offense wouldn’t be denied and knew the game was on the line.  Ben calmly drove the Offense into Field Goal range and Jeff Reed split the uprights with 5:25 to play.  It was now up to the much maligned Defense that had time after time given up leads in the 4th Quarter all season long.  The Ravens to their credit however, showed what professionals they indeed are and effectively drove the ball down the field and deep into Steelers territory.  But that’s where LaMarr Woodley and Ziggy Hood came in, and shut the door.  Hood was creating pressure every time he was in the game that day and for the first time illustrated why he was worth a 1st Round pick and shined in his first real opportunity to play.  Woodley was an absolute beast and sacked Flacco twice in a row on 3rd and 4th Downs, and on the last one caused a fumble that Hood promptly recovered near the Steelers 45.

At the sight of this, my Aunts, two cousins and I walked back to my Bookstore thinking the game was over and ready to start my shift again.  Boy we were wrong.  All the Steelers had to do was pick up a couple of 1st Downs to ice the game and that would be that.  Yet by the time we got back, we saw the Steelers faced a 3rd and 11 after the two minute warning and Ben heaved up a prayer downfield that wound up short and Tom Zbikowski picked it off and started running the ball back the other way.  However, just as the theme was all day, Frank Walker was called for illegal contact and the INT was nullified.  The Steelers had survived and won the game 23-20 and we all let out a sigh of relief.

It’s crazy to think about all of the mental miscues and the penalty yardage racked up by Baltimore that day.  They accumulated 113 yards of penalties which probably cost them the entire game.  Yet that’s the beauty of this rivalry sometimes.  It’s not only a physically tough matchup, but a mentally tough one too.  And if one team gets lackadaisical or undisciplined, the other will be right there to hurt them.