With so much on the line and a fourth quarter lead, the Baltimore Ravens let a playoff berth and a couple of impressive winning streaks slip through their fingers. They also gave their hated rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, an opportunity to keep their once-fading playoff hopes alive.
The Steeler's 23-20 come-from-behind win was as much about Baltimore failing to finish a wounded enemy, as it was Pittsburgh's resilience.
For the second game in three weeks the Steelers trotted out a veteran, slow-moving backup quarterback. For the second time in as many games, the Pittsburgh backup has outplayed the Baltimore Raven's starting quarterback.
It was a typical Baltimore-Pittsburgh slugfest, full of venom and ill will, coming down to a final fourth quarter possession. The Steeler's win evens the season series with Baltimore and adds a little more spice to the AFC playoff picture.
Here are my winners and losers from Sunday's game.
Anquan Boldin was targeted more than any other Baltimore receiver and had a solid game with five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown. He seemed to take advantage of the shuffling Steelers secondary after Ike Taylor left the game with an injury.
Unfortunately, most of the damage that Boldin did was in the first half. He was only targeted twice in the second half and had one catch for six yards. He was called for two bad penalties in the third quarter and seemed to take a back seat to the Joe Flacco deep-ball circus in the final 25 minutes of play.
How embarrassing is it to lose to a team that turned the ball over eight times last week in an awful loss to the Cleveland Browns? Knowing that they would face Charlie Batch should have given Baltimore a decided advantage over Pittsburgh and its third-string quarterback.
However, the impotent Ravens pass rush and coverage schemes made Batch look like an All-Pro. He picked apart the Baltimore secondary, completing 25-of-36 (69.4 percent) passes for 276 yards and a touchdown.
The Ravens blew a game that they led by 10 points at home, ending a 15-game home unbeaten streak and a 13-game divisional win streak. Instead of grinding its hated rival into playoff exile, Baltimore allowed Pittsburgh to stay in the game and steal a win.
Ray Rice found some holes early, but Pittsburgh had his number after the first quarter. He was on his way to having the loser tag this week until he showed why he is considered one of the elite backs in the NFL.
His 34-yard scamper in the third quarter displayed the shiftiness and speed that makes him so dangerous every time he touches the ball. Unfortunately for Rice and the Ravens, his number would only get called 14 times on the day. It is unconscionable how the best offensive player on the field only touches the ball 14 times.
With 78 yards on only 12 carries, Rice was totally underutilized. He was only targeted twice in 34 passing attempts, which had everything to do with Baltimore giving the game to Pittsburgh in the fourth quarter.
To say that the Baltimore Ravens offense looked bad is an insult to the word "bad". It looked as though the Ravens were on the right track through the first two quarters, though it seemed that Joe Flacco was trying to win a distance or height throwing competition.
However, the Steelers stayed close and made Baltimore play with a weird sense of urgency. There was no clock management when they played with the lead, and Ray Rice was grossly underplayed. There was virtually no use of the tight ends in the game, and though Vonta Leach proved to be useful in the passing game, that strategy was also abandoned for the deep pass.
The tactics of Cameron on offense looked almost identical to the offensive (in every sense of the word) display in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. With a Ferrari (Rice) parked in the driveway, it seems like Cameron keeps losing the keys from week to week.
The fact that the Ravens secondary has the top three tacklers on the team is a testament to how poorly the front seven played. With little to no pressure on the quarterback all afternoon, the Raven corners were called into service early and often.
Corey Graham had another standout game against the Steelers, leading the way with 11 tackles, a pass defended and an interception. Graham has been a ball hawk lately and filled in nicely for a depleted secondary.
There is no way that Charlie Batch should have the ability to extend plays like Ben Roethlisberger. After a sack by linebacker Paul Kruger early in the game, the Ravens were unable to put any serious pressure on the veteran Steelers backup. The once-menacing Baltimore pass rush managed two sacks for a total of six yards lost, letting a 37-year-old immobile backup pick them apart.
Jonathan Dwyer bounced off the line several times for big runs, including a 16-yard lumber to tie the game in the third quarter. Poor tackling from the defensive line and linebackers put a burden on the Baltimore secondary, while the non-existent pass rush gave receivers plenty of time to get open.
Leach was a beast in the first half, creating most of the small running pockets that Ray Rice was able to find. His value as a blocker cannot be stressed enough. His pancake of Casey Hampton in the second quarter was a thing of beauty.
Leach finished the game with only four catches for 40 yards and seemed to be underutilized again by poor play calling. His primary role on the team is to create holes and block, but Leach has also proven to be a valuable weapon out of the backfield when the tight ends aren't getting separation.
Paul Kruger started the game Sunday on a high note with a sack of Charlie Batch. It was the fourth sack in as many games for the big linebacker. However, a bonehead penalty for roughing the passer helped the Steelers move up the field on their game-winning drive.
The 15-yard call moved the ball from the Baltimore 34-yard line to the 19, moving Pittsburgh from the fringes of field goal range to Shaun Suisham's wheelhouse.
Bernard Pollard had a busy day flying around the field. With Ed Reed's ailing shoulder, Pollard has been the hammer at the safety position the past few weeks. He finished with eight tackles on the day and one pass defended. He was a sure tackler and one of the few bright spots on the Ravens defense.
For the second time in three weeks a backup quarterback from Pittsburgh outplayed Joe Flacco. He seemed to think that the most efficient way to work the Steelers defense was to throw the ball as high and far as humanly possible, praying for a Torrey Smith miracle or a pass interference call. That seemed to work fairly well in the first half, but was painful to watch in the last two quarters.
Without being certain as to the plays that were called compared to Flacco's decision making, it's hard to tell where Flacco should have been throwing the ball. He was inaccurate throughout the game and put his receivers in danger with a couple of horrid throws. With the Ravens leading for a large portion of the game, Flacco made too many low-percentage passes and turned the ball over twice.