Taking a bird’s-eye view
Ravens tip rivals, tie for North lead
PITTSBURGH — The Steelers were so close to being 4-0 without Ben Roethlisberger. Only close doesn’t count in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, where every game is tight and no lead is truly safe.
Joe Flacco withstood Pittsburgh’s late go-ahead touchdown and goal-line stand to throw an 18-yard scoring pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds remaining, and the Ravens prevailed, 17-14, yesterday to prevent the Steelers from going unbeaten without their suspended quarterback.
“You go and win it on the last drive, there’s no better way to win,’’ Flacco said. “There’s not too many better ways to win in Pittsburgh.’’
A worst-case scenario for the Steelers — Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension — nearly became a perfect one.
The Steelers (3-1) took a 14-10 lead on Rashard Mendenhall’s 7-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, and they appeared to seal it after Flacco twice threw incomplete from Pittsburgh’s 2 with just under three minutes remaining, turning the ball over on downs.
But a holding call on a punt gave Baltimore (3-1) the ball at Pittsburgh’s 40 with 55 seconds remaining, and Flacco found Anquan Boldin on passes of 9 and 3 yards, and Houshmandzadeh for 10 yards.
Flacco then froze the Steelers’ defense with a pump fake that freed up Houshmandzadeh in the end zone for the winner. It’s Flacco’s first victory in four games in Pittsburgh.
“Joe just chills,’’ an admiring Houshmandzadeh said. “Look at his face — he’s always calm.’’
Now, instead of being two games down in the AFC North to Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger set to play the rest of the season, the Ravens are tied for first after winning in Heinz Field for only the second time in 11 games. Tight end Todd Heap called it a “huge win.’’
“I think one of the reasons why we play so hard here is we hardly win here,’’ defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.
For the Steelers, it feels empty. Even without Roethlisberger and his two injured backups, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, they were within seconds of being 4-0 for the first time since 1979.
“We fought for perfection,’’ cornerback Bryant McFadden said. “We tried to get as close to that as possible.
Baltimore appeared to squander its final chance at winning when, after driving from its 30 to the Steelers’ 2, William Gay knocked away a Flacco pass intended for Boldin on fourth down.
“We put two great drives together at the end of the game,’’ Flacco said. “We were fortunate to get the ball back.’’
Two false-start penalties set back the Steelers as they tried to run out the clock, and Keyaron Fox’s holding penalty on the punt gave Baltimore another precious 10 yards to work with in the final 1:08.
“If we make one first down, the game’s over,’’ Charlie Batch said.
Flacco was 24 of 37 for 256 yards and an interception. Batch, the No. 4 quarterback who barely practiced, much less played, until he beat Tampa Bay, 38-13, last week, was 12 of 21 for 141 yards and an interception.
The Ravens won despite being held to 70 yards rushing. Willis McGahee had 14 carries for 37 yards and a touchdown and Ray Rice, playing with a bruised right knee, had eight carries for 20 yards.
Like any Ravens-Steelers game, it was physical, low-scoring, and close, the fifth consecutive regular-season matchup between the mirror-image rivals that was decided by 4 points or fewer.
“We found a way to beat them at their place,’’ Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “That’s what makes it so special.’’
Both teams scored touchdowns early, an unlikely scenario given the Ravens came in leading the NFL in total defense and Pittsburgh was tops in scoring defense.
Batch’s 34-yard completion to Antwaan Randle El set up Mendenhall’s 1-yard run late in the first quarter. But Flacco found Derrick Mason for 40 yards ahead of McGahee’s 9-yard touchdown run 1:27 into the second quarter.
Billy Cundiff kicked a 33-yard field goal on the final play of the first half to give the Ravens a 10-7 lead.
Pittsburgh’s Jeff Reed missed both of his field goal attempts, from 49 and 45 yards.