Steelers vs. Ravens: Postgame Grades, Notes and Quotes for Baltimore
However, this matchup would be far different than when the two teams met in Week 4. That game saw Joe Flacco lead the Ravens to a 23-20 overtime win over Michael Vick's Steelers.
This time around, Ryan Mallett got the start at quarterback for Baltimore. On the other side, Pittsburgh had a healthy Ben Roethlisberger, who's been playing like one of the NFL's best signal-callers as of late.
At least, that was the case going into this game, but the Ravens did their best to make Big Ben look average early on in this matchup. The defense stifled Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense for the first two quarters while holding the Steelers to just three points going into halftime.
On offense, Mallett did just enough to help Baltimore score three times in the first half and take a 13-3 lead at halftime. That alone was a major surprise, but keeping that up for four quarters is a different story against this Steelers offense.
Pittsburgh would come alive in the second half, as both teams would trade blows before Pittsburgh narrowed Baltimore's lead to 20-17 going into the final minutes.
After Baltimore picked up a pair of first downs, it was forced to punt and give the ball to Pittsburgh with 2:55 left. This is the spot where the Ravens have blown so many games this season—holding a late lead, only to watch it slip from their grasps.
But this time, the defense would stand tall and force a turnover on downs to seal the 20-17 win. This was easily the sweetest and most gratifying win for Baltimore in the midst of one of the most trying seasons the franchise has ever had.
While injuries, close losses and failed expectations have been the theme of the 2015 Ravens, beating a hated division rival and possibly knocking it out of the playoffs makes up for a lot of Baltimore's shortcomings this year.
The offense did surprisingly well in this game, considering the number of injuries the Ravens were dealing with.
Ryan Mallett made his first start with Baltimore after being signed just two weeks ago. He made several big throws and put the Ravens in position to win this game with his big arm.
Mallett made clutch throw after clutch throw every time it appeared Pittsburgh was roaring back to take the lead. For a guy who's only been with the team for less than a month, Mallett looked like a seasoned Ravens veteran as he helped guide his team to a massive upset.
On the ground, rookie running back Javorius "Buck" Allen had a big performance, and Terrance West was no slouch either. Those two combined for 156 total yards and a touchdown as they were a big part of this win.
The pass-catchers also stepped up, especially Chris Matthews. He caught his first NFL regular-season touchdown after joining the Ravens one month ago.
Kamar Aiken and Chris Givens also made several big plays as Mallett found them for big gains deep down the field. Fullback Kyle Juszczyk chipped in five catches for 55 yards.
The real story was how well the offensive line played. After Pittsburgh's front seven got the better of Baltimore's line in the first matchup, the Ravens won the trench battle this time around.
Mallett was only sacked once compared to the five times Pittsburgh sacked Flacco in Week 4. The line also paved the way on the ground for wide-open running lanes for the backs throughout the game.
On defense, it was a bit of a disappointment in terms of the front seven versus the run. The defense allowed the Steelers to run for 110 yards on just 20 carries, an average of 5.5 yards per carry.
Part of that was by design, though, as Baltimore often kept extra defenders in coverage to slow down the Steelers' pass-heavy offense. That helped limit Ben Roethlisberger to just 215 passing yards, his second-lowest mark this season and his fourth-lowest output in the past two seasons.
The front seven also racked up three sacks and five quarterback hits. The defense also deflected seven passes and intercepted three more.
Needless to say, the defense overall did a great job of stifling the Steelers offense. Combined with one of the better offensive performance the team has had this season, Baltimore was able to pull off one of the biggest upsets of the 2015 NFL season.
Ryan Mallet Gets Starting Nod and Runs with It
Life in the NFL is hard when you don't have a franchise quarterback.
There may not be a better example this season than the Ravens. After Joe Flacco became their franchise QB and started every game from 2008 to 2014, he went down with a torn ACL back in Week 11, ending his season prematurely for the first time in his pro career.
Since then, Baltimore has now gone with three different starting quarterbacks in just five weeks. The latest came in Week 16 as Ryan Mallett got the starting nod.
Making life even more difficult was that he just signed with the Ravens on Dec. 15. Baltimore apparently felt he should get the start this week over the likes of Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen, both of whom have been wildly inconsistent.
Mallett was consistent this week. He was the main reason why the Ravens offense did so well against the Steelers, and he helped pull off the big win.
While this was technically Mallett's fifth start this season (he made four with Houston), this was his first as a Raven after the team signed him just two weeks ago. Even in today's pass-happy NFL, quarterbacks rarely come in on such short notice and have success in a starting role this quickly.
Mallett looked like he'd been with the Ravens all season, as he finished 28-of-41 passing for 274 yards and a score while taking just one sack and not turning the ball over. That was good enough for a 95.0 passer rating.
While this is just one game, it was a darn good one by Mallett. After the game, he expressed his gratitude to the Ravens for giving him this shot, as ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley reported.
"I want to thank the Ravens for bringing me in here," Mallett said after the win. "It's an emotional time, but a fun time."
Mallett also did enough that the team named him the starter for next week's finale against the Bengals. Head coach John Harbaugh said with a laugh, "It will be Ryan Mallett," per the Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec.
After Mallett led Baltimore to about as improbable of a win as you'll see in the NFL, he would deserve to start quite a few more games if the season were still young. As it stands, he just took a huge step toward winning the backup job behind a healthy Flacco next season.
One of the biggest stories to come out of the first matchup between these two teams back in Week 4 was how badly the Ravens offensive line played.
The Steelers simply dominated the Baltimore O-line in pass protection, racking up five sacks. That was the most the Ravens had allowed in a single game since Week 10 of the 2013 season.
This line has become one of the NFL's best since then, especially when it comes to pass protection. Even after that Week 4 debacle, Baltimore still entered Week 16 allowing the fourth-fewest sacks.
Season-ending injuries to center Jeremy Zuttah and left tackle Eugene Monroe certainly made life harder this time around against Pittsburgh. However, the line played like a great unit against the Steelers, despite all of the injuries.
Ryan Mallett was only sacked once. He was also hit just four times after the Steelers had seven quarterback hits in the first matchup.
The line paved the way on the ground for the running backs to gash Pittsburgh to the tune of 121 rushing yards. Baltimore's linemen playing so well made life much easier for the skill players to make just enough big plays to pull off the win.
All-Pro guard Marshall Yanda made it clear that despite Baltimore's down season, sweeping the Steelers and possibly knocking them out of the playoffs feels great.
"Obviously, that's pretty awesome," Yanda said after the game, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Chris Adamski.
Ravens-Steelers has been one of the NFL's best rivalries over the past decade, and this adds another chapter to it in favor of Baltimore.
Maxx Williams Struggles Again
It's been a tough rookie season for Ravens tight end Maxx Williams.
After Williams was the first tight end drafted in the 2015 NFL draft, it looked like Baltimore had found its tight end of the future. The second-round pick out of Minnesota was widely regarded as the draft's top tight end and someone who could make an impact as a rookie.
However, Williams has failed to deliver this season, despite a host of injuries on offense that should have made him more of a weapon in this offense. But coming into Week 16, he had caught just 12 passes for 91 yards and one score since Week 7.
We can attribute some of his woes to the constant changes at quarterback. He's also spent much of this season behind Crockett Gillmore as the No. 2 tight end, but still, Williams should be producing more in Baltimore's depleted offense.
Against the Steelers, the Ravens tried to get Williams involved by targeting him five times. However, all he could muster up was two catches for 16 yards. Six other Ravens had more receiving yards than he did.
It's clear the rookie learning curve is affecting Williams. While there still a lot of room for him to grow into a quality NFL tight end, he's not shown enough as a rookie to suggest that's a guarantee.
Chris Matthews Emerges
The Seattle Seahawks came close to winning back-to-back Super Bowls thanks to a breakout performance from Chris Matthews.
In Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots, Matthews emerged from being an unknown receiver to nearly being a Super Bowl hero. He caught four passes for 109 yards and a score in the Seahawks' 28-24 loss to the Pats.
Those were Matthews' first catches in a regular-season or postseason game. Had Seattle won the game, he may have won the Super Bowl MVP award and cemented himself in NFL history.
It wasn't meant to be, and after opening the 2015 season with the Seahawks, Matthews would eventually be waived before the Ravens signed him to their practice squad. Since then, he has been called up to the 53-man roster but hadn't done much through his first two games.
That is, until he caught his first regular-season NFL touchdown in Baltimore's win over Pittsburgh this week. Matthews scored on an eight-yard strike from Ryan Mallett on Baltimore's first possession to give the Ravens a lead they would never relinquish.
These kinds of contributions will help Matthews earn a role on next year's team while also helping Baltimore end the season on a high note.
Beating Steelers Was Like Winning a Playoff Game
Any win over the Steelers is a memorable one for the Ravens, but this one was extra special.
Since Baltimore's season is going to end next week with no playoff berth coming, a chance to damage Pittsburgh's playoff hopes was something these Ravens craved.
You could tell just watching this game that Baltimore was playing with more motivation and focus than usual. The Ravens wanted this game like it was a playoff game, and that's how they approached it, as head coach John Harbaugh told CSN Mid-Atlantic after the game.
"It felt like a playoff game," Harbaugh said. "It's a classic Steelers versus Ravens game"
Harbaugh also made sure to praise what was a rocking Ravens crowd in their home finale that continued to support their team through all of their struggles this season.
"The crowd was incredible," Harbaugh said, via the Ravens' Twitter page. "The crowd was great from the get-go. I'm just so proud of our fans because it's been tough. It's been tough on us. It's been tough on everybody. It's been tough on our friends.
"But our fans have just hung in there like our team has hung in there. For our fans to hang in there where our team has hung in there...what a statement about Baltimore. What a statement about the people we have in this community."
This obviously hasn't been the kind of season the Ravens and their fans envisioned, but they showed a lot of character in seeing it through to the very end.