Can’t win ‘em all.
Although the Pittsburgh Steelers had plenty of chances to win on Sunday. Sadly, the hated Baltimore Ravens handed the Black and Gold their first loss of the season by pulling off a heartbreaking last second 17-14 victory. It was your typical close, hard-hitting game between the two rivals. At the end of the day, though, what will stick with me is all the missed opportunities.
Charlie Batch (12-21 141 yards 0/1) had an up and down game. Last week, it seemed as if he was born with a rabbit’s foot wedged firmly between his buttocks. But Lady Luck is a fickle mistress. This week, he left a number of plays on the field, played scared at times, and simply couldn’t catch a break. If this was the final start of Chaz’s career, it was an honorable if disappointing way to go out.
The Steelers began the scoring on their second drive of the afternoon. A number of short runs by Rashard Mendenhall (25 carries 79 yards) and a pass interference call on Baltimore set the Steelers up on the Ravens 37. Batch lofted a bomb down the left sideline where Antwaan Randle-El made a fantastic leaping catch over the cornerback for a 34 yard gain. It was truly Swann-esque. Mendy banged it home for the first of his two TDs on the day for an early 7-0 lead.
The Raven answered immediately with a touchdown drive of their own. They exploited the middle of the field quite effectively. They discovered a weakness in the Steelers D where on three WR sets, they’d try covering the slot guy with either a linebacker or safety. Well, as fast as Lawrence Timmons or Ryan Clark are, they aren’t going to keep up with Anquan Boldin or Derrick Mason. A 40 yard play to Mason and an 18 yarder to Boldin set them up at the Pittsburgh 9. James Farrior was caught flat-footed allowing Willis McGahee to blow right by him for a TD.
Late in the half, the Ravens followed the same formula to move into field goal range as time expired. Kicker Billy Cundiff, who missed one on Baltimore’s opening drive, knocked this one home for a 10-7 halftime lead.
Things completely fell apart for the Steelers in the second half. People are going to bring up 2009 and blame the defense for surrendering a late lead but that is absolutely unfair. With one exception, the defense was the only thing keeping them in the game. They didn’t give up a point in the entire second half until the last 30 seconds of the game. They forced two turnovers in Ravens territory. And they had a tremendous four-down goal line stand to preserve what should have been a victory.
On the opening drive of the third quarter, James Harrison wrapped up McGahee and punched the ball free. Timmons scooped it, setting the offense up at the Baltimore 27. Bruce Arians, who called his first idiotic game this season, ordered up a reverse to Mike Wallace that got nothing. After a short gain by Mendy, Batch was sacked for a seven yard loss. The offense had no flow and no coherent game plan. Like I said, you could say “Baltimore attacked the middle of the field.” The Steelers did a little bit of this and little bit of that. And almost nothing worked as they finished with a puny 210 yards of total offense, 93 of which came on a single drive in the fourth.
After the three and out, Jeff Reed doinked his kick off the goalpost.
A couple drives later, Joe Flacco threw up a duck which Ike Taylor fair caught for his first interception of the season. Wait, did I just type that? IKE TAYLOR INTERCEPTED A PASS!!! The apocalypse must be nigh.
Starting at Baltimore’s 33, the Steelers offense went three and out yet again. This time, they did manage a bit of a threat as Batch hit Wallace with a bomb in the end zone. The pass was perfect and Wallace had it in his grasp but the Ravens cornerback managed to rip it free before he could complete the catch. As I said, Lady Luck is fickle and there was no love for Charlie.
Skippy lined up for a 45 yarder and this one missed wide left. That’s your Franchise Player, Steeler Nation.
The Steelers finally put together a decent drive early in the fourth. Starting on their own 7, Batch connected with Heath Miller for gains of 19 and 13 yards. He did catch a break on a deflected pass which fell harmlessly between three Baltimore defenders. Randle El caught a 16 yarder to move them down to the Ravens 26. Mendenhall toted the rock on three of the next four plays, finishing the long drive with a 7 yard touchdown which put the Steelers ahead 14-10.
Flacco immediately answered with a 21 yard pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh. The Steelers began playing soft coverage (not quite a prevent) and gave up catches in ten yard chunks as time ticked down. With a little over three minutes left, Baltimore found themselves with a first and goal on the Steelers 8. A fade pass to Boldin fell incomplete and a Ray Rice plunge netted only 6 yards. Then the incredible happened. Willie Gay rose up to make two fantastic plays for the Steelers. He saved a touchdown on third down by breaking up a pass intended for Mason. On fourth and goal, the Ravens tried another fade to Boldin but he couldn’t escape tight coverage from Gay and it again fell incomplete. Willie Gay = Hero?
The end really must be near.
Taking over at their own 3, the Steelers ran Mendy up the gut three times. The first time netted two yards but a false start set them back. The second run got nothing. The third attempt gained three yards but, repeat after me, a false start set them back. So the Steelers kicked.
Baltimore fair caught but…wait for it…there was a penalty on the Steelers. Add ten more yards so instead of starting on the 50, the Ravens began at the Steelers 40. Now notice how I’m not bitching and moaning about all the flags against the Steelers, who were penalized 11 times for 88 yards. The Steelers played sloppy and stupid, plain and simple. It’s not some vast NFL fueled conspiracy against the Black and Gold. Take note, Ratbird fans.
The Steelers decided to play a prevent this time. What’s worse, it was a stupid prevent. The Ravens were out of time outs and there was less than two minutes left. If you’re going to surrender yards, at least take time off the clock and/or make the Ravens rush to run their next play. Incredibly, almost every play ended with a Ravens’ receiver going out of bounds. This allowed Flacco to calmly stroll to the line of scrimmage and call the next play. Also, in prevent, you’re supposed to never ever ever ever let a WR get behind you. Yet, Housyourdaddy blew right by Bryant McFadden and caught a strike from Flacco for an 18 yard TD.
Now some people are going to blame Skippy for blowing two makeable field goals. And that’s fair considering how he cried and whined about wanting to be the highest paid kicker in football. Money kickers make those kicks, Jeffy. And some people are going to say “It’s 2009 all over again!” and blame the defense for giving up that touchdown at the end of game. But the bottom line is the OFFENSE HAS TO SCORE. When two drives begin deep in Ravens territory and you not only fail to score one measly touchdown but can’t even make a freakin’ first down, that’s embarrassing. If the Steelers capatilize on even one of those golden opportunities, everything else is moot.
Help us, Obi-Wan Ben Roethlisberger. You’re our only hope.
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