If there is anything you can be sure of when the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens face off, it's that the game is going to be interesting. This rivalry is grounded in an intense hatred for one another, while at the same time there is a mutual admiration between the two franchises.
On this Thursday Night Football Thanksgiving spectacular, it was once again close and came down to the final moments, with the Ravens pulling out a close 22-20 win over the Steelers.
On a night that saw big plays, big injuries and some controversy, the Ravens were able to hold off a late surge by the Steelers to keep their playoff hopes alive at 6-6, while the 5-7 Steelers are likely playing for pride going forward.
Here are some quick takeaways from tonight's game.
All stats courtesy of ESPN.com.
Let's get this one out of the way: The Steelers kick off early in the third quarter to wide receiver Jacoby Jones. Jones proceeds to almost take the kick to the house while being chased down from behind by cornerback Cortez Allen at the Pittsburgh 27-yard line.
Upon replay, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is shown standing on the sideline, with about half of one of his feet on the field. As Jones approaches, Tomlin steps further toward the sideline with a sort of exaggerated move that almost appears to be an intentional move to impede or alter the path of Jones.
There was much discussion about the intent of Tomlin on the play, but as Jones said in a postgame, turkey-laden interview with NBC's Michelle Tafoya when asked about what the play, if he thought Tomlin did it on purpose, Jones added, "I probably would have done the same thing if I knew I was back there."
It won't shock me if the league fines Tomlin for this play, but everyone should go back and watch the rest of the game, or even other Steelers games and pay close attention to Tomlin.
This is not the first time he's wandered out to the field during plays. Was it intentional? Maybe.
But the truth is, Allen was likely to catch him either way.
Slow starts have hampered this Steelers team all season, and that happened again on Thursday night. The Steelers came out once again with an ultraconservative game plan. That essentially gave away their first two drives.
It's hard to understand why Pittsburgh comes out like this, then switches things up, but it appears to be a trend. The NFL is a league that is predicated more and more on offense, so it makes no sense to come out and try to nickel and dime a defense like the Ravens.
By the time the Steelers decided to liven up the offense, they were playing from behind. The same can be said for the defense, but these muddy starts by the offense are sometimes just too much to overcome.
It will be very interesting to go back over the play of offensive tackle Kelvin Beachum more closely, but on one watch, Beachum had a great game. Admittedly, he is not much of a run blocker, but the same can be said for other Pittsburgh starters.
However, he drew the assignment of blocking linebacker Terrell Suggs and, in many cases, with no help. The Steelers were forced to help with double-teams inside on defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and on the right side with offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Suggs never so much as grazed Roethlisberger on Thursday night. Beachum did a nice job forcing Suggs outside, engaging him with arms extended and not letting Suggs overpower him. It was unfortunate when he was forced off the field late in the game with an injury.
Earlier in the week, I wrote a piece about what rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones needs to do in order to improve his game. I was almost universally vilified for calling Jones out. Well, get ready for more, because once again, Jones came up short.
The Ravens were doing their very best to double linebacker Jason Worilds, leaving Jones one-on-one with offensive tackle Eugene Monroe for the majority of the game. Once again, Jones struggled to get release on the pass rush and all in all just got pushed around.
This isn't a product of a rookie in a complex defense. This is a product of a young man who got by in college playing much smaller than he can in the NFL. Hopes are still high for Jones, especially if he can get bigger and stronger, particularly in his lower body.
Nonetheless, on Thursday he was a nonfactor due in part to his inability to contend physically with the Ravens.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review beat writer Mark Kaboly put out a tweet late in Thursday night's game that summed up a lot about rookie running back Le'Veon Bell and his performance.
Well, if you aren't sold on Le'Veon Bell you never will— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) November 29, 2013
It is impossible not to root for a player like Bell. He puts his body on the line every single play. He got himself knocked out at the end of the game trying to help this team win.
Bell finished the game with 136 yards of offense and a touchdown. He should have had another if not for a helmet-to-helmet hit knocking his helmet off as he flew into the end zone unconscious.
Bell was a warrior all game long, fighting for extra yards and showing all the skills of a feature back. However, for now, the focus is on his health and making a full recovery from a vicious hit on that final play.
When nothing else is working, you go to your security blanket. And for Roethlisberger, that is tight end Heath Miller. For the third week in a row, Miller was a big part of the passing offense, finishing with a team-leading eight catches for 86 yards.
Miller might not be the fastest guy on the field—or the flashiest—but his physical style of play was just what the doctor ordered on Thursday night.
Miller played like a power forward, posting up on the Ravens defenders and imposing his will on them. The team will need to address some talented youth at the position, but for now Miller is the man at tight end.
If there's been one thing Steelers fans have been able to count on this season, it's been the play of kicker Shaun Suisham. Aside from a total gaff against the New England Patriots, Suisham has been the picture of consistency.
However, on Thursday Suisham made a mistake that was almost inexplicable. In the second quarter, Suisham and the Steelers lined up for a 49-yard field-goal attempt—not a gimme by any means but very much makeable.
But, for a reason that is all but impossible to explain, Suisham started into his kick before the ball was snapped, causing a botched-field-goal-turned-fake field goal. With a two-point loss, those three points turned out to be huge.
An interesting aside to this play: Technically, since Suisham started going forward before the ball was snapped, the play should have blown dead and Suisham flagged for a false start. Obviously, it would have made the field goal more difficult, but according to the letter of the law, the refs blew that one.
It is hard to find any sort of comfort in a loss—especially a loss that likely seals the fate of the Steelers. Nevertheless, there is always something special about a game against the Ravens, win or lose.
In the Tomlin era, the Steelers and Ravens have played 16 times, and 13 of those games have been decided by a touchdown or less. That is a remarkable statistic when you think about it. Thursday's game did not disappoint.
NFL fans have become so numb to good football with the deluge of scoring that a game like this can be underappreciated. Two very equally matched football teams went toe-to-toe for a full 60 minutes. At the end of the day, the best team won.