Week 16 Recap: A Gift From The Ratbirds

The Pittsburgh Steelers managed to keep their slim postseason hopes alive with a hard fought 23-20 victory over the Baltimore Ravens.   Unfortunately, things around the NFL didn’t exactly fall their way yesterday so they still find themselves behind a long line of teams in the AFC playoff race.  However, a win over the Ratbirds is still a win over the Ratbirds.   Regardless of how the final week of the season shakes out, we can at least rest easy knowing that gang of thugs and their insufferable fanbase can’t lay claim to sweeping the season series and knocking us out of contention.

The first quarter of yesterday’s game was the best overall effort from the Black and Gold since the Denver game some months back.  Bruce Arians reined in the Flying Circus and we came out with a relatively balanced attack (21 passes vs 13 runs at halftime).  Rashard Mendenhall wasn’t running all that effectively, only totaling 36 yards on the day, but at least Arians adjusted to the fact Baltimore was swarming in on Ben Roethlisberger almost every time he dropped back to pass.   Remember when we marveled at the fact our offensive line wasn’t as bad as we thought?   Well, they’re as bad as we thought.   They’ve now given up close to 20 sacks over the past three games with four coming this week and it easily could’ve been more than double that if not for Ben’s amazing ability to break away from tackles.

Defensively, the team came out with some funky new schemes which put the blitz back in Blitzburgh.  This was the most QB pressure they’ve gotten in weeks.  Joe Flacco panics like a scared little girl when he’s rushed which prevented him from exploiting our terrible secondary.  Deshea Townshend was targeted frequently as a slight improvement over Will.i.am Gay.   At least Deshea doesn’t give WRs a 12 yard cushion on every play.  Tyrone Carter continues to be a giant black hole of suck.

Thankfully, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley came to play.  Both had monster games.  Mister Woodley set up the Steelers first score by crashing in on Flacco just as he was about to release the ball.  The wounded duck ended up in James Farrior‘s hands for an INT.  That’s only the team’s ninth INT this season.   And Troy Polamalu has three of them!

The Steelers should’ve converted the turnover into a touchdown when Big Ben’s pass hit a wide open Mendy on the hands right at the goal line.  He Sweeded it to the turf so they settled for a Skippy Reed FG.  Baltimore answered back when Carter was burned for a 27 yard gain which set up a boot for the Ratbirds.

Stefan Logan electrified Heinz Field by returning the kickoff 49 yards.  We complain about the horrid special teams play this season but I’d like to note Joystick now has the Steelers all-time single season record in return yardage.  Anyway, Ben pulled his David Blaine act in escaping a sack and finding Mike Wallace for 12 yards.  Fast Willie Parker added a 13 yard run before the drive stalled when Baltimore managed to finally bring Ben down, forcing them to kick another FG.

The Ravens got backed up on their next drive and their punter shanked his kick after a three and out.  Starting at the Baltimore 43, Santonio Holmes caught a 13 yard pass then Hines Ward drew an 18 yard pass interference penalty.  Mendy atoned for his earlier mistake by bulling his way into the endzone from five yards out.  Steelers were up 13-3 and things were looking pretty good.

The Ravens struck back immediately, going 61 yards on seven plays.  A couple nice runs by Ray Rice were mixed with short passes down the middle.   Then Flacco uncorked a 30 yard TD bomb where Todd Heap outleaped Deshea by about a foot and a half.  I still like him better than Gay.

Finally, with two minutes left in the quarter, Big Ben went to work.  Recognizing that a Raven had jumped offsides, he uncorked a bomb to Wallace.   Wallace made a great adjustment to the ball and came down with a 45 yard gain.   A few plays later, Ben hit Santonio on a short out pattern which turned into a 24 yard TD when the inept CB got juked out his jock.  Halftime came with the Steelers holding a 20-10 lead.

The third quarter was one of the most one-sided affairs you’ll ever see.  The Steelers ran four plays the entire fifteen minutes.   FOUR.  The Ravens started the quarter off by riding Ray Rice for all he’s worth.  And he’s worth a lot as his 15 yard run and a 14 yard screen contributed to setting up another TD pass to Heap.  Rice, by the way, had 141 rushing yards yesterday.   That’s the first 100+ yard rusher the Steelers have allowed in more than thirty games.

On the Steelers first play of the second half, Ben threw a Pick Six.   Well, it should have been a Pick Six but the Ravens were flagged for an illegal block on the return.  This is why I have a problem with the Flying Circus.  Yes, Ben is one of the best QBs in the game.  Yes, he threw for 500 yards last week.   Yes, I think he’s a fantastic player.  But he’s not consistent.  He makes a lot of mistakes.  Last week, he was in the zone.  This week, he was not sharp in going 17/33 for 259 yards, although it was enough to give him the Steelers single season yardage record.   He’d frequently underthrow or overthrow his targets and he made a number of very poor decisions.  I like Ben but it’s hard to be a Pass First Offense when your QB is so streaky.

The defense managed to stiffen up following the turnover allowing Baltimore only a FG out of the deal.   Those points tied the score at 20-20.   A three and out by the Steelers gave the ball right back.   The Ravens once again moved effectively down the field thanks mostly to Rice’s running.  Pittsburgh caught their second break of the quarter when Willis McGahee pinch hit for Rice.  He ripped off a 32 yard TD that got called back on yet another holding penalty.

The Ravens had only begun to self-destruct.

At the start of the fourth quarter, they still had the ball on the Steelers 17.   One would think they’d at least get the go-ahead FG.  Instead, their drive came to a crashing halt under a sea of yellow flags.  A holding penalty moved them back five yards.  Then a pair of incompletions were followed by a personal foul.  First and ten at the 17 quickly became third and thirty from the 41.  The Ratbirds had a golden opportunity to salvage the drive when Derrick Mason blew past Deshea like he was standing still and was wide open in the endzone but the ball clanked off his facemask in a Sweed-like fashion.   So despite having two TDs served up on a platter, the result of the drive was only a punt.

A couple punts later, Big Ben lead what would be the game-winning drive.  A crucial third down conversion was made by Tyler Grisham.   Who?  Grisham is a rookie who was just activated off the practice squad, evidently due to Sweed’s mystery illness and Joey Galloway not being up to speed yet.  So the rook made his first NFL catch a clutch 14 yard gain.  Of course, a few plays later he dropped an easy one on third down.  Holmes sandwiched a 24 yard catch-and-run in between those which set up Skippy’s 38 yarder.

The Ravens had a great chance to tie it.  The ensuing kickoff was returned 48 yards where only Skippy’s tackle (actually more of a playground shove) saved the return TD.  Starting at the Steelers 49, the Ravens worked the ball down to the 37.   That’s when Mister Woodley decided to end this farce once and for all.   He sacked Flacco for a three yard loss.  On the next play, he sacked him again, this time knocking the ball free for good measure.  Ziggy Hood (who also had his first sack earlier in the game and showed some good pass rushing abilities) pounced on it for the fumble recovery.

Awesome.  Let’s sit on the ball and go home.   Done deal, right?

Arians decided to put the game completely out of reach with two and half minutes left by throwing on third down.   Ben threw a really poor pass that was intercepted.  ARE YOU KIDDING ME?   CAN’T THESE GUYS MAKE ANYTHING EASY?!?!

However, repeat after me, there was a flag on the play.  Illegal contact on the Ravens.   Automatic first down.   The Ratbirds successfully piss away a game.  The Steelers successfully go into victory formation.  That’s all, folks.

I’d love to be more excited by this game but the Steelers could’ve easily been blown out.  I’ve never seen a more sloppy, poorly disciplined team than the Ravens.   They had 11 penalties for 113 yards yesterday.  More importantly, they had two TDs wiped off the board to go along with the one Mason completely whiffed on.  Not to mention all the drives that were stalled by holding or false start penalties.

Despite playing good football during the first half, the Steelers did not look good in the second.  When you only run four plays an entire quarter, you know something is rotten in Bloomfield.  Mendy couldn’t get on track so the entire offense fell on Ben’s shoulders.   Unlike last week, he was not in the zone so everything sputtered.  Of course, a lot of this has to do with an offensive line which is playing atrociously.  And then on defense, Deshea may be a bandaid but he’s not the cure.  Also, we all knew Aaron Smith was the key to the run defense and yet, the team has played excellent against the run in his absence.   This week, it all came crashing down.

I’ll be rooting for the Steeler next week to make the playoffs.   Make no mistake, if by some miracle we get in, I’m not expecting some 2005 style run.   In fact, I’m sure we’d end up being one-and-done.  However, I’m a proud member of Steeler Nation so I’m going to pull for them even when I know this team is not a championship level team.   I will say by winning the past two games and giving themselves a CHANCE at the playoffs, the team has earned my respect for at least going down with a fight.

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