It is hard to watch a such a well-played game end in a loss. That's exactly what happened to the Pittsburgh Steelers when they fell 22-20 to the Baltimore Ravens in the prime-time slot on Thanksgiving.
Granted, it's impossible to say that everyone played well, because in a loss there had to be some problems, but the truth is, the vast majority of the roster played well enough to win. If not for a lapse or two here or there, this game turns out very differently.
With that, let's hand out some grades, good and bad.
All stats provided by ESPN.
This game didn't start out great for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and to be honest, early on it looked like he was way off his game.
On three or four throws, Roethlisberger had his man open with very little pressure, and he just put it into the turf. Inexplicable, but in the final analysis it's hard to say just how costly.
After those early missteps, Roethlisberger got his rhythm and really had a solid all-around game. He finished with 257 yards passing while completing passes at a 64 percent clip. He also had two touchdowns and no interceptions.
The play that really stood out for Roethlisberger was the two-point conversion attempt. He laced a ball to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders for the two-point conversion, a throw few quarterbacks could make.
Tragically, Sanders couldn't hold on.
If you were a critic of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell going into Thursday's game, you have to be giving him a second look after his performance.
The Ravens defense was crowding the line of scrimmage, daring the Steelers to run early. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh offensive coordinator Todd Haley didn't bite, sending Bell into crowded fronts for much of the game.
What Bell did was show a hard-nosed running style and excellent vision and burst. It wasn't until the Steelers started to spread the Ravens defense out, giving Bell some creases, that he was able to get going.
Unfortunately for Bell, his game ended on a crushing helmet-to-helmet hit late in the game as he was going in for what would have been his second touchdown of the day. Bell finished the game with 136 yards of offense. He proved once again he can be the feature back.
There aren't many wide receivers who can look at a five-catch, 59-yard performance and be disappointed, but Brown certainly struggled.
The Ravens had an excellent game plan in place and really limited Brown's opportunities. Brown was fourth on the team in targets on Thursday night, which should tell you all you need to know about how his night went.
Sanders was on the wrong end of some of Roethlisberger's errant throws early in Thursday's game, giving his stats a hit. However, he heated up as the game progressed, including his eight-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter to begin the rally. If he could have reeled in that two-point conversion he's a hero, but instead he's the goat.
Cotchery is included on this list because once again he found his way into the end zone, this time on a one-yard slant route that put the Steelers in a position to tie the game. Cotchery didn't have a great game overall, but he always seems to find a way to score when the Steelers need him to.
It was terrific to see the return of tight end Heath Miller to the passing game.
Miller finished with eight catches, giving him 46 on the season. Considering his missed time, this is a huge positive for this passing offense.
Props to Miller also for his blocking, both in pass protection and in the run game.
Big, big props to the Steelers' offensive line. The Ravens' defensive front is as good as any the Steelers have faced all season. The expectation was Roethlisberger would be running for his life all game long.
That couldn't have been further from what happened.
The Steelers' coaching staff used a nice mix of protections that allowed them to maximize their opportunities and mask their deficiencies. It would have been nice to see them do better in the run game, but you take what you can get.
Overall, this line did everything it could to put this team in a position to win the game.
Cameron Heyward, Defensive End
Defensive end Cameron Heyward has strung together five great games in a row now for the Steelers, including Thursday night's game. Heyward finished with seven tackles. He was as disruptive as any defensive player on the field. It is obvious he has turned the corner and has justified his first-round selection.
Ziggy Hood, Defensive End
The expectation was that defensive end Brett Keisel would return, relegating Hood to a rotational role. However, because Keisel was forced from the game with an injury, Hood was called into duty. Hood responded with six tackles and one hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco.
Ideally, Hood can become the other half of the tandem of the future for the Steelers along with Heyward.
Outside linebacker Jason Worilds was able to put together another masterful performance against the Ravens on Thursday.
Worilds pulled in 10 tackles, two sacks and three quarterback hits. Since moving to left outside linebacker, Worilds has feasted on tight ends and right tackles, and Thursday was no different. Ravens tackle Michael Oher was jumpy all game long, trying to get ahead of Worilds and his outside rush.
It's tough watching a talent like Timmons relegated to pass coverage and cleanup on run plays. The Steelers rush safety Troy Polamalu more than they do Timmons.
He is such a smooth, fluid athlete with a suddenness to his game that cannot be denied. It is obvious that he is not being utilized fully, largely because there isn't enough talent around him to allow him to do anything else.
Thursday was another tough outing for rookie outside linebacker Jarvis Jones.
Since he was moved to right outside linebacker, Jones has drawn the best tackle on the opposing team, and it has shown. If it were just that, things wouldn't be quite so bad. Jones struggling against Ravens tackle Eugene Monroe isn't something to be faulted for on its own. However, too many times, Jones was singled up on a tight end and still couldn't get separation.
Ike Taylor, Cornerback
Before people get all up in arms about cornerback Ike Taylor and another poor game, it is important to have some perspective. There is no way that after the previous two weeks, Taylor was being asked to single up any of the Ravens receivers.
No, the breakdowns in the Steelers' secondary were shared, and so the blame will be as well.
Will Allen, Safety
The Steelers are employing Allen as a "big dime" cornerback/safety, and for the most part he's playing pretty well. Nevertheless, on Thursday, Allen was responsible for some overaggressive play and some missed assignments that allowed several big plays. Allen did finish with six total tackles, but his lapses hurt his grade.
Cortez Allen, Cornerback
Allen was pressed into duty, and his performance was up and down. At times, he did utilize his physical stature and athleticism to muscle up the Ravens.
With the Steelers having to play so little base defense, a big corner like Allen helps. He finished with seven tackles and had a pass breakup on the night. He showed some potential.
Troy Polamalu, Safety
As much as I have lobbied for safety Troy Polamalu this season, his play has started to become frustrating.
Thursday, Polamalu was on the field for 68 snaps, largely in the box as an undersized linebacker. However, he rarely found himself anywhere close to the football. All this time in the box is making his coverage suspect, and it almost seems as if there are times where he is being hidden to protect him from opposing offenses.
The usually reliable kicker Shaun Suisham was on the wrong end of a truly bizarre play that might have ultimately cost the Steelers the game. His botched field-goal attempt that turned into a fake was a real head-scratcher—and so costly.
Mat McBriar, Punter
Punter Mat McBriar continues to improve. He had a very nice game on Thursday, finishing with four punts for a 43.5-yard average. He was able to put two of those punts inside the 20 and had a long of 56 yards.
There has to be some special consideration and a unique grade given to head coach Mike Tomlin.
His antics on the sideline during Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones' kick return started off as a joke. It then morphed into an Internet meme, and now it seems to have turned serious according to ESPN Insider Adam Schefter.
NFL expected to consider six-figure fines for Mike Tomlin and Steelers orgn. Tomlin was NFL's most recent addition to competition committee.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) December 1, 2013
If this really happens, what Tomlin did is huge. Not so much for the fine, but the potential of a lost draft pick makes this entire incident exponentially worse.