The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Baltimore Ravens 31-24 in the first Divisional Round matchup of the NFL Playoffs.
When these teams face off with one another, it is always more of a seething hatred than a friendly rivalry, and the trash talk started early this past week when linebacker Terrell Suggs came to the press conference in a questionable t-shirt.
As usual with this matchup, there is more ugly than anything else, and whichever team can pull off a little more good usually wins.
With no further ado, here is the first playoff edition of “The Good, Bad, and Ugly."
He only had 25 yards receiving on three catches, but Hines Ward found a way to lift his team at all the right moments.
Ward’s production has gone down this year with the emergence of Mike Wallace and rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, but when it comes down to a big catch at a big moment, there is no one better than Ward.
Ward’s touchdown tied the game at 21 with a little over nine minutes left in the third quarter, and they never trailed again.
Everyone knows that Ward is the best blocking receiver in the game, but the work he did one-on-one against Ed Reed was an incredible difference maker throughout the game.
Ward’s leadership will continue to play a big part in the Steelers’ title hopes going forward, and he will be counted upon in a major way regardless of who next week’s opponent will be.
Antonio Brown has been more than serviceable as a return man in his rookie year, but his big play ability and feel for the game cannot be understated—especially when he uses his head.
Brown led all players in receiving yards with three catches for 75 yards, but none bigger than his one handed, helmet hugging, over the shoulder, fourth quarter catch on third and 19.
Brown showed composure and concentration beyond his NFL age when the Steelers needed it most.
The Ravens gained only 126 yards on 53 offensive plays against the Steelers’ defense.
While the score would say otherwise, the Steelers’ defense was dominant against Baltimore. Had the offense not turned the ball over twice inside the their own 30, the Steelers likely would not have given up half the final tally.
The Steelers’ D had five sacks, seven tackles for a loss, eight pass deflections, four quarterback hits, and an interception to go with a forced fumble in Saturday afternoon’s battle of the AFC North.
While LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison kept consistent pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco, players like Ryan Clark (forced fumble/INT) and Ike Taylor played perhaps their best football of the season in coverage.
If the Steelers are going to advance beyond the AFC Championship Game, the defense will need to tighten up their tackling and continue to push their aggressive blitz schemes.
The Steelers turned the ball over twice inside their own end of the field, and it led to 14 unanswered points that took the crowd out of the game and more importantly, pulled the momentum visibly to the Ravens sideline.
When the Steelers went into the locker room down 21-7 at the half after a missed Shaun Suisham field goal, the 2011 season looked all but over for the guys in black and gold.
After coming out a bit flat on the first drive of the second half, the Steelers' defense gave them a big stop and the lift they needed. The Steelers went on to score 17 unanswered points.
Eventually the Steelers would drive for the game-winning touchdown, and the defense would hold yet again as the Steelers went on to close out the game.
The ability to come back from a near dismantling to win a game against a tough opponent may be the very rallying point the Steelers needed to take them to yet another level as a team.
While a tightly called game on both sides is welcome by all accounts, the referees in this divisional round matchup were far from consistent, and at times extended drives that resulted in scores for both teams. 167 yards in penalties that led to points and the detraction of points had quite an impact on the game.
While everything ended up evening out throughout the game, the officials were certainly more involved in this game than most have hoped to see during a playoff game.
Roethlisberger dropped back to pass inside his own 20-yard line and after two pump fakes, found Terrell Suggs draped around him like a cheap Halloween costume.
The ball comes loose, sits aimlessly five yards passed the line of scrimmage, several Steeler players look at it and walk away before Cory Redding picks it up and scrambles into the end zone for a Ravens touchdown.
The old adage “play until the whistle blows” never held as true as it did on this play.
While a perceptive play by Redding paid off big for his team, a coherent Steeler could have done the same rather than walking passed the ball several times.
This play may be the worst in recent memory concerning the Steelers, but it could have been one of the ugliest plays in Steelers’ history had the touchdown cost the Steelers the game.
The Steelers were penalized nine times for 93 yards in Sunday’s contest.
While the personal foul on Hines Ward should not have been the lone penalty if any on the play the rest of the penalties were avoidable.
Chris Kemoeatu is becoming known for late after the play penalties of the 10-15 yard variety. While he may be looked at as a stand up for his teammates kind of guy at times, the knuckleheaded penalties that have been called on No. 68 have been costly, and even dirty at times.
Running in the same vain, the only time Keyaron Fox has been mentioned in the last month is not for a big special teams play, it’s for a big penalty on a late hit or a personal foul.
Kemoeatu’s penalty could have cost the Steelers big as the Ravens got the ball on the Pittsburgh 48 yard line after it was imposed on the kickoff. With a short field in a key situation, the Ravens had an opportunity, but the Steelers’ defense stepped up and saved the day once again.
If the Steelers are going to make it out of the AFC in these playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl, they cannot afford the stupid penalties being supplied by Kemoeatu and Fox, among others.
Coming into the Divisional Round, the Steelers had done a remarkable job protecting the football. While Roethlisberger continued his streak of games without an interception, the rest of the team was not as successful in securing the rock.
Both of the Steelers turnovers occurred in the first half of the game deep in their own end and led to 14 unanswered points.
With little protection for their quarterback, the Steelers’ offensive line allowed Suggs and company to have their way with the offensive efforts of the Steelers as they gained just 60 yards after that first drive of the half.
The Steelers cannot afford to start slow against their next opponent—especially if it’s the Patriots—if they hope to be in contention come the second half.
The Steelers are the comeback kids of the Divisional Round, but they cannot afford to play catch up in the AFC Championship Game.
The Steelers are going to have to continue to protect the ball and put themselves in better position to succeed from a field position standpoint.
While the defense played well, the Ravens certainly didn’t help themselves with regards to dropping key passes throughout the game.
You cannot count on your opponent to help you in the playoffs with sloppy play in big situations. If the Steelers are going to make it to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to come out sharp and remain that way until the game clock is full of zeros.