The Steelers sent a surge of hope through the faithful tonight with their best performance of the season and kept alive their slimmest of playoff hopes with a 19-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.
A 42-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham as time expired was the difference in the outcome and served as the answer to a long Baltimore touchdown drive that two minutes earlier had tied the game.
The Steelers, who raised their record to 2-4, look to be coming together as a better, although not necessarily a good, football team. This was their second consecutive win and more importantly it was the second strong performance by the defensive unit.
Equally heartening was the play of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell who had his best game as a pro, gaining 93 yards on 19 carries. Bell repeatedly gashed the Baltimore defense for 5, 6 and 7 yard runs.
The defense had pretty much been a sieve in losses three and four, allowing 40 points to the Chicago Bears and 34 to the Minnesota Vikings. The unit had the distinct look of too old and too slow. But against the New York Jets last week and the Ravens today, the defense had a crisper, younger and, yes, quicker look to it.
The Steelers have a chance to continue their comeback next week when they play at Oakland. After that, it's a trip to New England to play the Patriots, who lost today to the Jets.
Respectability could be around the corner. Playoff contention might be a bit further down the road.
With Cincinnati winning today in overtime against the Detroit Lions, the AFC North standings look like this: Bengals 5-2; Cleveland 3-3; Baltimore 3-4; Steelers 2-4. The Browns were decisively beaten by Green Bay, 31-13.
Missing from the defensive performance was a turnover, the Steelers' problem all season. They had their first two against the Jets. But the Ravens were limited to 82 yards on 26 carries on the ground. Quarterback Joe Flacco was largely ineffective for most of the game, but led a superb 16-play, 73-yard drive, which tied the game with 1:58 remaining.
Ben Roethlisberger had another strong game for the Steelers. He completed 17 of 23 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown. He was not intercepted and had a passer rating of 107.2. He was sacked three times.
But what was missing from that performance, as was the case last week, was the inability to score touchdowns. The Steelers had one, on their second possession of the game, which was the same number they had last week against the Jets.
Considering the success of Roethlisberger, a passer rating of over 100 is excellent, and the performance of Bell, the failure to score is surprising and disappointing.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley showed the Ravens some new wrinkles. On several plays, Bell operated out of a wildcat formation, taking the snap from center with Roethlisberger deployed to the side. The Steelers touchdown came on a surprise shuffle pass to Heath Miller, who took the ball in full stride and pounded into the end zone from 3 yards out.
On their first field goal, in the second quarter, the Steelers had a first and 10 on the Ravens 19, but had to settle for three points. On the second, in the third quarter, they had a first and 10 on the 11, but could not score the touchdown.
The third came following a daring -- foolish -- gamble by the Ravens, who tried an onside kick after cutting the Steelers' lead to four, 13-9, early in the fourth quarter. The Steelers recovered on the Ravens' 38 but could get no closer than the 20 and had to settle for another field goal.
The final field goal -- which they gladly settled for -- was initiated by Emmanuel Sanders, who took a kickoff deep in the end zone and returned it to the 37. At first, it looked like Sanders had returned it for a touchdown and bedlam ruled at Heinz Field. But he was ruled out of bounds, barely, at the 37.
Roethlisberger moved the team smartly down the field, with passes of 13 and 11 yards to Antonio Brown being the big gainers.
Suisham was dead down the middle on the field goal as time expired. Despite the fine play of Roethlisberger, Suisham's perfect kicking -- he is 14 for 14 on field-goal attempts -- is turning him into the Steelers MVP.
First Published October 20, 2013 3:38 PM