The Baltimore Ravens marched into Pittsburgh and obtained a dominant win over the rival Steelers in the wildcard round of the playoffs. On offense and defense, they outplayed Pittsburgh and at no point did the home team look like they were capable of beating them. The final score was 30-17, but with the amount of mistakes the Steelers made, it could have been worse. Now, the Ravens will go into another tough environment in Foxboro to try to knock off the New England Patriots.
A huge story coming into this matchup was the absence of star Steelers running back LeVeon Bell, who hyper-extended his knee in the final regular season game against the Bengals. Ben Tate was added to a very thin running back core that only consisted of two rookies, Josh Harris and Dri Archer, to cope with the loss of Bell. Conversely, the Ravens were boosted by two players returning to the defensive line in the form of Chris Canty and Haloti Ngata–the former returning from injury and the latter returning from a four-game suspension.
The newly added Tate moved the ball well on the Steelers opening drive, as they were very content on getting him involved in the game plan. That was until he managed an eight-yard gain and coughed up the ball, only to be saved by Antonio Brown, who was alert enough to recover the fumble. Pittsburgh was able to recover from the near fumble, but was not able to get into the end zone and settled for a field goal to open the scoring.
Early on, Baltimore could not get much going on offense but as the first half wore on, Justin Forsett and the running game really started to pick up steam. Forsett’s consistent runs eventually set up a Bernard Pierce touchdown run, as the Steelers could not slow down the run. On the offensive side of the ball, Pittsburgh continued to move the ball really well through the air, but could not find the end zone and had to continue to settle for field goals. The Ravens went into halftime with a one point lead, knowing they would have a good chance to win if they continued to play so well on defense in the red zone.
Opening the second half, the Ravens continued to run the ball well and convert on big third downs, but was held to a field goal extending their lead to 13-9. Throughout the third quarter, Pittsburgh’s offense was held at bay very well by the Baltimore defense, who never let Big Ben find a rhythm in the passing game. Some big catches from Steve Smith and Owen Daniels were key to the Ravens moving the ball very well and led to another touchdown making it 20-9. The Ravens defense continued to be a story all night holding the explosive Pittsburgh offense when they needed to most.
To open the fourth quarter, Baltimore called a gutsy quarterback sneak on a fourth and inches play that kept a key drive alive. However, the very next play Forsett made his first mistake of the game when he fumbled after bouncing off of his own blocker and the Steelers recovered it. On the very next play, Antonio Brown caught a huge pass and got it down to the one yard line setting up a touchdown catch for Martavis Bryant, making it a 20-15 game after they failed to convert on a two-point conversion.
Another long sustained Ravens drive extended their lead as they got a field goal to make it 23-15. Just when it seemed that Pittsburgh had a shot of driving and tying the game, Big Ben made a horrible mistake that basically ended the game. On the next drive, Ben was driven out of the pocket by the Ravens pass rush and spun out trying to find his running back on a dump pass, but it was tipped into the arms of Terrell Suggs around the Steelers’ 20. The Ravens did a great job all night of pressuring Ben in the pocket and the constant pass rush paid off in a big way on the Suggs interception.
On the very next play, Joe Flacco found a trailing Crockett Gilmore underneath and he made his way into the end zone pushing the Raven lead to 30-15. With Steelers in desperation mode, Big Ben put together a nice drive that saw them get inside the red zone until it all fell apart through some costly mistakes. With about four minutes left, Dri Archer got into the end zone on a flair pass, but it was called back because of a holding call and it was all downhill from there. On the next play, Big Ben was hit really hard causing him to be pulled from the game to be tested for a concussion and bringing in the back-up quarterback. After Brad Gradkowski converted on a fourth down, Ben came back into the game only to throw an interception in the end zone further adding to Pittsburgh’s struggles.
Even though the game was effectively over with the Ravens having a 15-point lead and the ball with less than two minutes left, the Steelers kept pressing. Pittsburgh was able to force a punt and they were able to block it but unable to recover it in the end zone, giving them a safety when they desperately needed a touchdown. Nothing came from the safety with the Ravens holding onto a dominating 30-17 win. Baltimore was clearly the more prepared team and was simply far better than Pittsburgh in every facet of the game.
Next, the Ravens will travel to Foxboro to face the top-seeded Patriots taking a lot of momentum from this win in Pittsburgh. Baltimore has had a fair amount of playoff success against the Patriots in recent years, especially in slowing down Tom Brady and the Patriots offense. It was a huge win for Baltimore and their first against Pittsburgh in the playoffs during Jon Harbaugh’s tenure, and they will look to mount another playoff run on the back of a dominating win over the Steelers.
Commentary By Max Petkevicius
Pro Football Talk
Photo Courtesy of Keith Allison – Creativecommons Flickr License