Ugly wins are no stranger to the Baltimore Ravens' feud with divisional rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers, and that's just what the Ravens pulled out on Sunday night, defeating Pittsburgh 13-10. The win extended their AFC North lead by two games.
The Ravens offense took advantage of two Steelers turnovers, scoring a field goal apiece after their defense forced and recovered a fumble on Steelers receiver Mike Wallace and picked off quarterback Byron Leftwich, while their special teams took care of the rest. Jacoby Jones provided the Ravens with their lone touchdown of the game, a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter, his third total return for a score on the year.
A combination of smart and effective Baltimore defense combined with the shortcomings (and apparent rib injury) of the fill-in Steelers quarterback allowed them to pull off a win, despite a textbook weak road performance from their offense.
The Steelers had 311 yards of total offense—111 more than Baltimore—but converted just five of their 17 third-down attempts, with Baltimore's secondary having more than enough time to shut down Leftwich's receiving options. Though Pittsburgh receiver Emmanuel Sanders had 82 yards on the day, its second-best target, Mike Wallace, had only 26 yards.
Baltimore allowed the Steelers no room to run on third downs, despite their 134 total rushing yards, forcing Leftwich into passing situations he wasn't ready for. Notable on the day was Corey Graham, filling in as starting cornerback for Jimmy Smith (groin) who himself had been a stand-in starter for Lardarius Webb. He had eight tackles on the day, three defensed passes and an interception.
That strong defensive performance helped augment the Ravens' offensive struggles. Joe Flacco went 20-of-32, for 164 yards and no touchdowns, and running back Ray Rice put up only 40 yards on his 20 carries, outperforming himself as a receiver with five receptions for 53 yards. The Ravens converted only three of their 14 third downs and trailed in time of possession, 32:51 to 27:09.
While the Baltimore offense merely underwhelmed, the Steelers offense made mistakes, which ultimately decided the outcome of this game. This win puts Baltimore in the catbird seat when it comes to the future of the division.
The Steelers are two games back from Baltimore now, meet the Cleveland Browns next week and face the Ravens again the week after that—losses both weeks basically knocks them out of divisional contention. The momentum this win gives Baltimore—and the building blocks for collapse that have been put into place for Pittsburgh—makes the Ravens one step closer to playing football in January.
Indeed, this win is more beautiful than it seems at first glance.