December 14, 2008
A.F.C. North Title and Sansmokio’s Magic
Steelers 13 – Ravens 9
This game, like every late season Steelers vs. Ravens game had the division title at stake with the two defenses slugging it out until the last one stood. And let me say Steeler Nation, I for one wasn’t disappointed. As Mike Tomlin reiterated to his players that magical 2008 season: “It’s a 5 star matchup because we’re in it.” The 10-3 Steelers took on the 9-4 Ravens in Baltimore with everything on the line, and the game was a 5-star matchup and so much more.
After a scoreless 1st Quarter that saw both defenses just dominating and included a Ryan Clark INT, and a Ray Lewis sack of Roethlisberger where he just leveled him, the tone thus was set for a titanic defensive battle. The Steelers managed to tie the game at 3 with a Jeff Reed Field Goal in the 2nd quarter, yet Baltimore answered back and had a long drive stall (as would be the case all day) and settled for a Field Goal before the Half to make it 6-3.
I just kept saying to myself that all was well because the Steelers had held tough and not given away TD’s. I also kept thinking that the Ravens should just have given the ball to Le’Ron McClain on every play, because he was just trucking along all day and finished the game with 23 carries for 87 yards which was the most yards the D had given up to one player on the ground all season. Flacco had himself a crappy day, and who knows what would have happened if he just kept feeding big Le’Ron who was an unsung hero of that season’s Ravens squad.
Regardless of my thoughts on what the Ravens should and shouldn’t have done, disaster almost struck the Steelers early in the 3rd Quarter Sansmokio Holmes fumbled the ball deep in Steeler territory, but luckily the Defense bailed him out and the Ravens only made it a 9-3 game. Sansmokio then fumbled a punt but was bailed out again when Keyaron Fox recovered and actually advanced the ball into Baltimore territory. Sadly for the Steelers, the drive stalled and netted no points after Bruce Arians called a pass play on 4th and short where Ben was sacked and fumbled the ball. Despite not scoring on the drive, the Steelers had taken points away from Baltimore by playing keep-away and still remained in the game only down by six points.
As the 4th Quarter began, all I kept reiterating to myself was not to worry about the score, a big play will put the Steelers ahead and get the fans out of the game. And while it wasn’t a huge scoring play by any means, the Steelers still were able to mount a drive with some nifty pass catches by Hines Ward that netted 3 points and cut the deficit to 9-6. This turn of events set the stage for one of the most important plays of the season. On their final drive and trying to take the game and division title, Baltimore drove to the outskirts of Matt Stover’s FG range late in the game to at least put them up 12-6 and gain some points for insurance. Luckily for the Steelers Lawrence Timmons ran into the backfield like a bat out of hell on 3rd down and sacked Flacco, made him fumble the ball, and forced the Ravens to punt. I wish Timmons were allowed to blitz more because he is just a freakin terror, but that’s for another article. Baltimore’s Special Teams wasn’t fazed however, and the always underrated Sam Koch had an outstanding punt that was downed at the 8 yard line which may have sealed the game if the Ravens were playing anybody else.
The fantastic punt and awful field position seemed to only inspire Ben and the Offense more. And what happened next only added to the mystique and aura of Big Ben Roethlisberger and his late game heroics. Facing what would be the 2nd Ranked Defense in the League that season, on the road, with 3 minutes and change on the clock, most QB’s like Philip Rivers might have turned tail and peed the bed like a 4 year old. But not Big Ben, not on that day, and not in a situation where the chips were on the table and the Steelers needed a big play. With solid decision making and his cannon of a right arm, Ben led a 92 yard TD march that still gives me goose-bumps whenever I think about it. Nate Washington (5 catches for 76 yards in the game) and Hines Ward (8 catches for 107 yards in the game) along with the O-Line (only gave up 3 sacks) deserve a ton of credit as well, because they really tore up the Ravens D on that drive.
They drove the ball inside the 10, and on 3rd and Goal from the 4 yard line with under a minute to play, Ben scrambled like a mad man, and completed a pass to Sansmokio that was called short of the goal line despite it being a close play. Luckily for the Steelers, the play was close enough to be reviewed, and was looked at up in the booth to determine whether the ball Sansmokio caught did in fact break the plane of the goal line. Thus, it all came down to a judgment call by the refs.. Then after a lengthy review, and me crossing my fingers and jumping up and down cause I had to pee, the refs. determined the nose of the ball crossed the goal line as Holmes was falling back into the field of play. I’ll never forget calling my Mom when they went to the booth review and her and I just crossing our fingers and hoping that they somehow called the play a TD. I mean in real time from most angles it doesn’t look like he got in, but when it is slowed down you can actually see the ball breaking the plane. After the booth review and a Skippy Reed PAT the score stood at 13-9 and I was running around my dorm room looking for somebody to high five.
The game itself wasn’t over however, and I knew I couldn’t relax at all. The Ravens ended up driving the ball into Steeler territory after the kickoff. But when William Gay recorded his first career (and still only) INT on a Flacco desperation heave the Steelers won the game, the division, home-field advantage, and another game that will find itself on this list as well. This was truly the way the division should have been decided.