Steelers-Ravens: Pittsburgh Wins The Battle Of Top Defenses

Bryan Hollister@too_old_4stupidAnalyst IJanuary 19, 2009


Is there anyone else out there who would like to argue about who the best safety in the league is?

Pittsburgh defeated the Baltimore Ravens 23-14 in the AFC showdown Sunday night with blistering defense, solid offense, and less attrition to injury. Troy Polamalu put a dagger in the Raven's heart when he intercepted Joe Flacco on Flacco's second of three interceptions in the game, then ran the ball back down the field—"Ed Reed" —for a touchdown.

Polamalu also was largely responsible for stopping Joe Flacco's sneak attempt on fourth-and-one by timing the snap perfectly and then leaping over the pile to grab Joe around the shoulders, which stopped him in his tracks.

I guess Flacco is still a rookie. He sure performed like one tonight, at times looking like he was playing one of his first games of the year against a Steelers defense he should have been familiar with. Flacco was held to 13-of-30 passing for 141 yards, no touchdowns, and three interceptions, something he had avoided doing the entire postseason.

Of course, if you believe in omens, then this game was over before the first kickoff.

Those watching the NFC Championship watched Eagles kicker David Akers have to reset the ball after it fell off the tee before the first kickoff. The game was played in a dome, so it couldn't have been the wind.

Arizona went on to win the game 32-25 to send Arizona to the Super Bowl, their first trip to the big game in 61 years.

In the AFC game, Baltimore won the toss, but elected to defer the kickoff because wind wasn't going to be a significant factor in the game.

As Baltimore kicker Matt Stover lined up for the opening kickoff, a funny thing happened: the ball fell off the tee, possibly blown off by the wind that wasn't going to be a factor.

Game, set, match, Pittsburgh...for all those who subscribe to that sort of thing.

For those of us who don't, we witnessed what we all thought we would: a hard-hitting, brutal back-and-forth contest by two defenses who are largely responsible for the success their franchises have seen in recent years. Player after player went down, and some went out.

Darren Stone was injured on the game's very first play, and he never returned to the game.

Trevor Pryce was injured early in the first quarter, but was able to return. He contributed one tackle after his injury.

Frank Walker left the field due to injury just before the Ravens scored their first touchdown of the game late in the second quarter.

Hines Ward was injured after having his knee twisted on a crucial third down conversion. Ward gamely tried to re-enter the game, but his leg just wouldn't go.

Ben Roethlisberger gave fans a scare when he briefly went down the tunnel after taking a hard hit to his lower back. In typical fashion, he shook the injury off, and returned to lead the Steelers to victory.

Limas Sweed bruised his ego a bit when he muffed a perfect pass from Big Ben that would have put the Steelers up with a nearly insurmountable lead going into the half. He returned to the game in short order, and was involved in yet another Ravens injury.

Sweed cold-cocked Corey Ivy on a devastating block to free Heath Miller for additional yardage after a catch at the end of the second quarter.

Willis McGahee appeared to have twisted his ankle when he went down after being tackled by Ryan Clark for a loss. He was able to return to the game, but he may be rethinking that decision.

If, that is, he remembers where he is right now.

The scariest moment of the night came near the end of the game. Clark and McGahee met again as Baltimore was trying to engineer a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter. Clark delivered a vicious hit to the Ravens running back after a catch, and both players hit the ground—out cold.

After a few moments, Clark was able to stumble off the field with assistance from the trainers, but McGahee remained motionless on the field as both teams emptied their sidelines in concern for the fallen player. Many of them knelt in prayer, and all of them had that "uh-oh" look in their eyes.

After five to 10 minutes, McGahee was loaded on a back board, and carted off the field. He was able to move all of his extremities, but was complaining about severe neck pain.

As well he should be; replays showed Clark lowering his shoulder for the hit, but the two players weren't able to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact—McGahee's head snapped back further than human physiology should allow.

After that play, the game continued, but the injury to McGahee seemed to take the wind out of everyone's sails, Ravens and Steelers alike. Pittsburgh had recovered the fumble that resulted from Clark's hit on McGahee, but they were content to go three-and-out.

Flacco made on last-gasp throw to Ray Rice, but the ball was deflected and picked off by Tyrone Carter, who returned the ball five yards before falling to the field.

Two kneel-downs later, and the Steelers were victorious. But at what cost?

Their big-hitting, big-play receiver has a knee injury. Roethlisberger has a back injury that he must deal with. Ryan Clark appears to have suffered a concussion that is going to take some time to recover from.

And Willis McGahee's condition is still in doubt.

Depending on who you were pulling for, this game was even more devastating a loss than you would have imagined, or less sweet a victory than you were hoping for.


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