When Ben Roethlisberger found Mike Wallace for a 25-yard touchdown, Baltimore Ravens fans began to groan. There was only 5:08 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Pittsburgh Steelers had scored 14 unanswered points to comeback against the Ravens yet again. It looked like the same old story where the Ravens hold the lead for most of the game, choke at the end and let the Steelers win.
This sense of dread seemed to grow even more after the Ravens went three-and-out on their next offensive drive and the Steelers were a first down away from winning. The Steelers always won against the Ravens in these kind of scenarios.
Until now. The Ravens drove 92 yards down the field to score the game-winning touchdown with eight seconds left. The win gives the Ravens a season sweep over the Steelers and ends all notion of the idea that the Steelers own the Ravens.
The Ravens beat the Steelers in Heinz Field with Roethlisberger starting. This was the first time they had done so since 2006. The season sweep proves once and for all the Ravens are the better team this year and they have finally figured out to beat their most hated rivals.
Here's seven things I took away from this game.
At least for last night that statement was true. The Ravens have had many games where their third down offense has been terrible, but last night they finished 14/21 (66%) on third down.
The 14 third downs were the most the Steelers had given up in a game since 1970.
It may sound cliche, but oftentimes third down play really does win the game. It helped that the Steelers pass defense was awful on third down, but credit should still go to the Ravens for stepping up. In the game-winning drive, Joe Flacco added a fourth down conversion as well as two more third down conversions.
Torrey Smith wasn't having the best game early on against the Steelers. Before the final drive his stats had been pedestrian at best with four catches for 45 yards.
In fact, it could be argued that he was having a bad game. On the Ravens very first offensive play, a 70-yard rushing touchdown by Ray Rice was called back because of a holding penalty against Smith. Later on in the final Ravens drive, Smith choked again as he dropped what should have been the game-winning touchdown pass.
Then four plays later Smith got it. He came up with a huge catch bringing in the 26-yard touchdown. It was his fourth receiving touchdown, which gives him the most on the team.
It's clear that something special is going on with Smith. Even though he is a rookie, he is already making huge plays and stepping up as a starter in the NFL. Smith could possibly be on his way to becoming the franchise's first superstar receiver and definitely needs to see the field as a starter from here on out.
Terrell Suggs is one of the few players that consistently gives Roethlisberger a hard time. He has 15.5 career sacks of Roethlisberger, the most of any player in the NFL. Although he had three sacks each in the last two games against the Steelers, he failed to pick up any last night.
Instead, Suggs made his presence known with one interception for nine yards. Despite the short return, the interception was crucial since it occurred in the red zone and prevented the Steelers from coming away with points. It was also the only turnover the Ravens defense generated this game except for a fumble at the end of the game.
Although Suggs played well, the lack of pass rush was disturbing tonight. Unlike in Week 1 where Roethlisberger was constantly being throttled, last night he was only sacked once. Last night it was vintage Big Ben as he broke tackles and made plays by stepping out of the pocket.
Should the Ravens and Steelers meet again in the playoffs, a pass rush will likely be necessary for victory. Roethlisberger can't given any extra time to make those killer throws that he is so good at.
James Harrison is not a player that the Ravens like at all. Most of that is due to the fact that he can be an absolute beast who is one of the top defenders on the league and he plays for the Ravens most hated rival no less. It also hurts since Harrison was an undrafted player who was cut by the Ravens before signing with the Steelers.
It seems he hasn't forgotten that, as Harrison almost always brings his A-game against the Ravens. Last night was no exception, even though he was returning after missing four games with an eye injury. Harrison went on to lead the Steelers with eight tackles, three sacks and a crucial forced fumble.
Harrison goes out and wrecks havoc on the Ravens defense way too often. Besides Troy Polamulu, he might be their defense's best player. The offensive line needs to do a better job and not allow three sacks to any one player.
No one seemed able to match up with Harrison. Even though he is an enormous man, I saw Bryant McKinnie get beaten badly by Harrison. In the future the offensive line needs to do a better job of stopping opposing pass rushers so they give Flacco more time to throw.
In Baltimore, it always seems the defense bails out the offense. So many times the offense is described as the unit that holds back the team and the defense has to make a play for the team to win. Well, last night those roles switched for once.
There is no mistaking that this year's Ravens defense is elite and even may be the best in the league. But last night they withered away late allowing 14 unanswered points to the Steelers in the fourth quarter. It's easy to forget that this game was a miracle drive away from being yet another typical loss against the Steelers.
Roethlisberger threw for 330 yards and time after time he seemed to find the open receiver. Antonio Brown in particular was frightening as he got 109 yards on five receptions playing, similar to how he did when the Ravens discovered him after 3rd and 19 in the playoffs last year. A tired defensive unit couldn't seem to stop the Steelers fast receivers late in the game when it mattered.
This fact makes the final offensive drive that much more special. It is difficult to think of any game in Ravens history where they made a drive that far down the field with that little time and scored a touchdown just seconds before the end of regulation. When Ray Lewis and company can get help from the offense, this team becomes that much more dangerous.
Joe Flacco has been shaky for the most part this season. He's followed up impressive numbers during wins with abysmal stats in losses to inferior teams. It's a maddening thing for a playoff contender to experience especially with Flacco in his fourth year as the Ravens starting quarterback.
Last night Flacco showed that it is far too early to write him off as just a typical Ravens quarterback who is a "game manager." This might very well be the finest moment of his career. It was his eighth game-winning fourth quarter drive and is likely the biggest given the magnitude of the situation.
The fact remains that Flacco is still inconsistent. But his promise is still yet to be realized and it is clear that he is the guy to lead this team's offense. He was very much Joe Cool under the pressure of that final 92-yard drive, which looked like something Montana or Elway would do.
I know this statement sounds bold, but please let me explain. After the Steelers beat the New England Patriots last week, every single NFL reporter seemed to say they were the best team in the AFC. If the Steelers can get that kind of recognition after a statement win, why not the Ravens?
The only other AFC team with two losses right now is the Cincinnati Bengals. I think the Bengals are also extremely underrated this year and could even be one of the league's best teams. However, at this point the edge has to go to the Ravens who have swept the Steelers and looked more complete than a young Bengals team that has yet to face the Ravens or Steelers.
So that leaves the Ravens as the AFC's best team for now. Still, that doesn't mean too much since the AFC North is an incredibly difficult division this year as is the AFC East. Margin for error remains small and dropping two games could move the Ravens from a division title and a first-round bye to missing the playoffs entirely.
It's crazy that only two weeks after the Jacksonville debacle I can feel comfortable saying that, but the NFL does move ridiculously fast.
If they are the AFC's best team next week, the Ravens can follow up this emotional win with an easy victory over a reeling Seattle Seahawks team next week.