The game that had more ups and downs than a roller coaster at Kennywood. The one that seemed written as a story. And like stories, with a 31-24 win over the Baltimore Ravens, this one had a happy ending.© 2011 Steelers Universe
The game started out well for the home team. A punt by the Ravens followed by an eighty yard drive capped off by a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown at the goal line. Cautious optimism, the hope of an "easier" win. How silly that seems now. By the end of the first quarter, Baltimore stormed back leading 14-7. Multiple mental mistakes aided them. Penalties ran rampant. Anthony Madison had a 33 yard pass interference penalty on a 3rd and 15, clearly stumbling into Anquan Boldin that set up the Ravens first score of the day. In a "did that really just happen" moment, Corey Redding recovered a fumble that was presumed to be an incomplete pass by the other 21 players on the field. And perhaps by Redding himself at first, only running to pick up the ball after looking at the referee.
On a touchdown to Todd Heap mid-way through the second quarter, a beautiful rub by Baltimore, the deficit jumped to 14, 21-7. It would remain that way at halftime. Even Britney Spears looked at the score and said, "Things aren't looking good for Pittsburgh".
Perhaps lesser teams would have bowed out at this point. Momentum gone, a loss of focus, a domino effect of errors. Not this team. Not this group of players. The ones who have been doubted at every point in the season. Their ability to win without Ben Roethlisberger for the first four games, without their starting offensive tackles, their starting defensive end, and a tough divisional opponent and conference to boot. Being down by two touchdowns paled in comparison.
The veterans kept the team together. But the young guys, as they've done all season long, were just as big contributors. Buddy Parker was wrong. Rookies do have value. Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, and Maurkice Pouncey showed that value. Even being wildly successful college players, a scenario such as this surely would have seemed more like fantasy a year ago.
Before the offensive show, the defense showed why they're the best. Not needing a Batman signal, they knew switching the momentum back in their favor was critical. Three turnovers on nine offensive plays in the third quarter. Read that again. A turnover on a third of the Ravens' plays in the third quarter. A nightmare for the Ravens; as if Stephen King and Pop Warner had a child. A new ball game for the Steelers. Towels waving, the stadium shaking. If Pittsburgh was on a fault line, the North and South side would be separated by the Monongahela. Myron Cope and the Chief were surely smiling down on the city.
Trading field goals, the Steelers got the ball back with just under four minutes left. The final chapter was about to be written. A third and ten dart to Hines Ward, where the throwing window had to have been only as large as the football itself. As soon as the excitement came, worry and fear hit the pit of every Steelers fan's stomach. Getting hit by James Harrison couldn't have felt worse. Ben sacked, the sixth of the day. One play later, a 3rd and 19. Thoughts of a draw play, the Ravens getting the ball back in their hands and having a chance to kick the game-winning field goal with strong-legged Billy Cundiff. A bow of the head, a short prayer, a hope of a miracle.
It came in the form of a 6th round pick from Central Michigan. Not the first guess of any fan. Or the second. Or the eighth. An arrogant rookie, finally showing signs of settling down the latter half of the season. A player who had a handful of snaps at WR throughout the game. A simple task. Run as fast as you can. Something the speedy rookie could manage. A perfect throw from Ben, a quarterback who had struggled with the deep ball last season. Shades of a David Tyree catch from Brown, who couldn't have imagined a bigger situation if he tried. Plays later, Rashard Mendenhall cutting like Lemieux at the Mellon and driving his legs like Bettis over Brian Urlacher into the end zone. Four plays later for Baltimore, a dropped pass ended their season. The Steelers would have the only comeback of the day.
It wasn't a pretty win. It rarely is. Rhythm on offense was hard to find. Running lanes even tougher. Protecting Ben? Mike Tomlin's first call will go out to John Travolta, looking to buy a plastic bubble.
Through a makeshift line, out of lineman yet again, a group of five going out there when called upon. Flozell Adams channeling his inner Dwight White to play through sickness before being forced to leave the game. This team made plays when it had to. When the situation looked the bleakest, this band of brothers answered the call. They fought. They have all year. They're just playing their game.
I wouldn't want it any other way.