November 29, 2009
Dennis Dixon’s Valiant Effort Doesn’t Stop the Slide
Ravens 20 – Steelers 17 OT
After a literal bed-crapping performance to take over the division lead from the fluke-tastic Cincinnati Bengals ended in a 15-12 loss, things went from bad to worse the next week when the Steelers lost on the road in O.T. to an even more pathetic Kansas City Chiefs team. Oh but remember, there was more, a cherry on top of the 2009 craptastic sundae. Not only had Big Ben gotten a concussion which left him out for the following week’s game against Baltimore, Charlie Batch got hurt in the K.C. game too and was lost for the season. So, in the middle of a two game losing streak, the Steelers were going to start a 3rd string QB on the road, against their most hated rivals, in a game that had playoff implications. Surprisingly what took place however was one of the most competitive and emotional roller coaster of games that had ever occurred in this rivalry.
To begin, let me interject a personal anecdote about Dennis Dixon. This was Dixon’s first N.F.L. start, and also the first meaningful game he had played in since college. Why do I say this? Because I was there in person to see his last college game when his knee basically exploded on the turf at Arizona Stadium in the 1st Half and allowed the Wildcats to shock the #2 Oregon Ducks in a late season game. I kept hoping that he wouldn’t have to be carted off the field and that his knee would hold up enough to keep the game competitive. So I just sat in my apartment hoping that all would be well and that if at all possible he could maybe pull off the upset.
The game started off much like any game where a team was down to starting their 3rd String QB: not well. Dixon looked off and the Ravens jumped out to a 7-0 lead after Willis McGahee scored on a 2 yard TD run capping a 73 yard drive. As the 2nd Quarter rolled around the Steelers’ Offense finally started getting in a rhythm, and so did Dennis Dixon. Dixon displayed his quick feet and strong arm and tied the game on a 33 yard strike to Santonio Holmes for a TD. I remember that I called one of my buddies up during the drive and just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. A 3rd Stringer was moving the ball against the Ravens and making a game out of it. In addition, I must say that a special shout out must go to Rashard Mendenhall who gained 117 total yards and 95 on the ground that night. It was tough sledding as usual against the Ravens front, and it was even tougher when their Defense was expecting run all night due to Dixon starting. For a guy like Mendy who in his first game against the Ravens since having his scapula broken by Ray Lewis to play like he did that night speaks volumes about what kind of a gamer he is.
Anyways, the Sansmokio scoring celebration was short lived however because by the Half, the Ravens had regained the lead after a Flacco TD pass from 10 yards out to Derrick Mason. I was a bit salty that the Steelers were losing, but I was really excited to see what lay in store for Dixon in the last two quarters. He hadn’t made the idiotic mistake and was showing some nice poise for a guy making his first start.
Jeff Reed booted a 44 yard Field Goal in an otherwise uneventful 3rd Quarter. Nevertheless, the stage was set for one final dramatic 15 minutes of play. At around 7 minutes left in the 4th Quarter the Ravens had the ball and were looking to play keep away and eat some clock. Lawrence Timmons and Brett Keisel didn’t see it that way and sacked Flacco causing a fumble. Then with almost 6 and a half minutes left facing a 3rd and 5 from the Baltimore 24, Dixon ran a bootleg that totally had the Ravens fooled and walked into the end zone untouched. It was like a vintage Kordell Stewart play for those of you that remember. I still remember jumping up and down in my apartment thinking and saying: “My God they’ve found a way to beat these poor bastards in their own backyard with spare parts.”
Well that was an instance where I “counted my chickens before they hatched,” because the Ravens didn’t fold. Although the Steelers’ Defense almost made a stop that would have won them the game. Yet unless it’s horse shoes, hand grenades, and nuclear war, almost means squat. They put Flacco and his boys in a 4th and 5 situation near midfield and what ensued still makes my blood boil to this day because Ray Rice is just so damn good and Dick LeBeau and crew were caught napping. I truly still get angry thinking about that 4th Down conversion. I mean, James Farrior has been ineffective at covering RB’s out of the backfield for the last half decade. The fact LeBeau sent him out there with the responsibility of covering Ray Rice who may be the best pass catching back in the league was re-god-damn-diculous. Not having Timmons drop back or inserting a quicker DB into cover him was nothing short of moronic. Flacco was having trouble completing passes to his WR’s and I’m sure when he saw Farrior was responsible for Rice he was chuckling to himself. Granted the play should have been stopped shortly after the first down was made, but the poor tackling enraged me even further. The gain of 44 set up the game tying Field Goal that made the score 17-17 with just under 2:00 to play.
The Steelers almost lost in regulation because after they had to give the ball back, the Ravens drove down the field and Billy Cundiff missed a 56 yard Field Goal as time expired. Had that have happened I might have thrown a brick at my wall. I’m not even kidding, but that’s how pathetic the Defense played that season (especially the DB’s) without Polamalu and Smith.
So the game was sent to O.T. and the Steelers actually won the toss. When the Steelers won the toss I thought, “Hooray, maybe Dixon will be the hero after all!” Yet that optimism quickly faded after he made his only real mistake of the night and threw a pick to Paul Kruger who returned the ball deep into Steelers territory. A Billy Cundiff Field Goal from 29 yards out gave the Ravens the win, and set the Steelers back to 6-5 and sent packing to face the Raiders.
I don’t blame Dixon for this loss. The ones I blame the most are Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau. Arians because he didn’t allow Dixon to scramble and use his legs enough that night on rollouts and bootlegs. And when Dixon was allowed to do that he threw the TD to Holmes and had the TD run that put the Steelers ahead. But the fact he didn’t utilize Dixon’s athleticism properly that night still sticks in my craw. As for LeBeau, as if having the Defense give up another late 4th Quarter lead that season wasn’t bad enough, his decision to leave Farrior in the game on 4th and 5 was disgusting. Farrior has been a two down player for the last three seasons and had no business covering Rice.
Alas, no use crying over spilled milk. The Ravens made the plays when they needed to and won a hard-fought physical game that had all the drama that these affairs are usually filled with. This game meant the difference for an A.F.C. Wild Card spot that Baltimore received because of this win.