One does not have to look any further than last season to see how far the Baltimore Ravens have come as a football team.
The maturation process for the Ravens' young offense took a major step forward last night as it completed a 92-yard drive with eight seconds remaining on the road to beat their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last season in Pittsburgh, Joe Flacco completed a four-play, 40-yard drive by hitting T.J. Houshmandzadeh for an 18-yard touchdown pass with only 34 seconds remaining. Many fans and experts immediately anointed Flacco as grown up and ready to play with the big boys.
Then came the rematch in December at home. With the Ravens ahead and driving, Flacco inexplicably dropped back to pass on 2nd-and-5 from the Ravens 43 instead of handing the ball to Ray Rice and killing time on the clock.
Steelers safety Troy Polamalu came flying in off the edge and sacked Flacco. He stripped him of the football and, inevitably, the Ravens of their season. The Steelers recovered the fumbled, and five plays later, Ben Roethlisberger led his team to the game-winning touchdown, the division crown and, eight weeks later, a trip to the Super Bowl.
All because of the loss, the Ravens were once again the AFC's top wild-card team and subsequently had to travel to Pittsburgh in the playoffs. You know what happened, and you know what happened back in Week 1 this season.
The Ravens destroyed the Steelers 35-7, rubbed their noses in the loss, but experts were quick to remind everyone that it was just Week 1, and the game that mattered would be the rematch, which this year would be played in the Steel City.
Since then, both teams seemed headed in opposite directions. The Steelers had just won four straight games, their quarterback was white hot and they were coming off a huge win over their nemesis, the New England Patriots.
The Ravens seem headed south for the winter. Despite leading his team to its biggest come-from-behind win in franchise history, Joe Flacco was coming off six of the worst quarters in his career. Baltimore was one-half of a football game away from losing its second straight game to a one-win team.
Then came the much anticipated rematch on Nov. 6, and the Ravens—as they always seem to do, no matter where or when the game is played—jumped out to the early lead.
For the eighth time in the past nine games, the Ravens led the Steelers at halftime.
They did not make any mistakes and led the Steelers by 10 points heading into the fourth quarter. This, as every Ravens fan, knows is a recipe for disaster, and indeed disaster would strike. For the Ravens, and in the words of the great Yankees catcher Yogi Berra, "It was like déjà vu all over again."
With 7:40 remaining, Flacco dropped back to pass, and this time was sacked at the Steelers 42 by James Harrison. Just like last year late in the fourth quarter, he was also stripped of the football. Steelers cornerback William Gay recovered and it took six plays for Big Ben this year as he once again transformed Flacco's turnover into what Ravens fans just knew was the game-winning touchdown.
On the run to his right, Roethlisberger threw a dart that just got past the outstretched arm of Ravens cornerback Cary Williams and was caught by Mike Wallace in the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
Game over, Roethlisberger and the Steelers break the Raven hearts once again.
Not so fast.
Just as he did last year, Flacco would get the chance to lead his eighth game-winning touchdown drive.
Here is the Ravens' final drive, play by play. It is complete with down, distance, time remaining and one little tidbit about the game or the series.
Enjoy, Ravens fans, I know I sure did.