A burst of anger at halftime from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger at his teammates was followed by a burst of scoring late in the third quarter that boosted the Steelers from behind, and they beat the surprising Baltimore Ravens, 23-20, on Jeff Reed's third field goal of the game, from 46 yards in overtime last night.
Baltimore players celebrated because they thought Reed's field goal went wide, but it hooked just inside the left upright for the seventh winning field goal of his career.
"Oh, yeah, there was doubt," Reed said as he watched the ball hook to the left.
The Ravens had tied the score with four minutes left when Le'Ron McClain ran 2 yards for their only score in the second half that sent it into overtime.
The Steelers were left with one running back, Mewelde Moore, for most of the fourth quarter and overtime after Rashard Mendenhall fractured his shoulder and Carey Davis sprained his ankle. Mendenhall, making his first pro start, will miss the rest of the season.
Moore did not let them down. He turned a short pass into a 24-yard gain to Baltimore's 31 on third down, keeping their winning drive alive. He then caught a crucial 7-yard pass on third down to put Reed in better range from 46 yards.
"To make a play to help my team out ... I can't explain it," Moore said. "That [24-yarder] was the biggest play in my life."
The victory boosted the Steelers back atop the AFC North Division at 3-1. Baltimore fell to 2-1.
"We're never going to quit," Roethlisberger said after the game.
He said something entirely different at halftime. The Steelers trailed, 13-3, and they were booed as they left the field.
Roethlisberger shouted at his offensive teammates in the locker room.
"I was tired of being booed," he said. "I was tired of being embarrassed."
Tackle Willie Colon said: "He's just being a leader. He said you either step up or die, and everyone got it in their minds they were going to fight."
Whether it was those fighting words or something else, the Steelers stunning turnaround late in the third quarter occurred within 15 seconds when it appeared nothing could go right for their offense.
Then something did go right.
"We knew we had to get jump-started with a big play or a turnover," linebacker Larry Foote said.
They got both. On third down, Roethlisberger threw a pass over the middle to Santonio Holmes for a 38-yard touchdown. On the next play, James Harrison sacked Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco, who fumbled. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered and took it 7 yards for a touchdown.
"I'd rather take the sack-fumble all day," Harrison said about Woodley's touchdown off his effort. "He can score all he wants."
Those two scores not only breathed life into the Steelers, but they also gave them a 17-13 lead in a game in which they looked ripe for an upset loss to their bitter rivals from Baltimore.
Roethlisberger had a rough time of it until then. He was sacked three times in the first half and threw an interception that helped the Ravens turn an early tide and their first score, the ball slipping out of his hand.
Reed kicked his second field goal of the game, from 19 yards, with 9:19 left for the 20-13 Steelers advantage, but the Ravens drove 76 yards to tie the score with 4:02 left.
The Steelers got to Flacco for five sacks with Harrison leading the way with 2 1/2.
The Steelers grabbed a 3-0 lead on Reed's 49-yard field goal to end their first drive of the game.
Halotti Ngata's interception of Roethlisberger on the Steelers' second possession of the game changed its complexion. Instead of the Steelers having the lead and the ball near midfield, the Ravens took over at the Steelers' 48 and tied the score on Matt Stover's 33-yard field goal.
Stover put the Ravens in front, 6-3, when he kicked a 20-yard field goal with 3:48 left in the half. The Ravens took over at the 50 after a poor punt, and the Steelers defense made them pay for their three points by driving 48 yards on 11 plays.
Roethlisberger then had a Philadelphia moment -- he was sacked twice on three plays and fumbled on the final one. Colon recovered the fumble at the 9, but Mitch Berger managed to punt only 35 yards and the Ravens took over at the Steelers' 44 with 1:52 left in the first half.
The Ravens seemed content to settle for a field goal and a 9-3 halftime lead when Flacco dumped a short pass over the middle on third down to McClain. The fullback eluded a few defenders, most notably James Farrior and Ryan Clark, and made it 25 yards to the 3.
A few plays later, Flacco threw a fade in the left rear corner of the end zone, where tight end Daniel Wilcox caught it for a 4-yard score and a 13-3 Baltimore halftime lead that left Heinz Field in stunned silence.
It did not silence Roethlisberger, though, either in the locker room at halftime or back out on the field. He was not sacked in the second half and, using the no-huddle, found Holmes streaking across the middle on third down. He caught it behind diving cornerback Fabian Washington, then cornerback Chris McAlister missed a tackle and Holmes completed a 38-yard touchdown.
The Steelers trailed, 13-10, with 4:09 left in the third quarter.
One play and 15 seconds later, they took the lead at 17-13.
On first down, Harrison hit Flacco from behind and fumbled. Woodley fell on it at the 7, got up and ran into the end zone for a touchdown with 3:54 to go.
Their next drive came up 1 yard short for a touchdown, Reed instead kicking from 19 yards for a 20-13 lead. One play put them in scoring position. The Ravens blitzed six men on second down and Roethlisberger escaped it, shaking off linebacker Bart Scott to throw deep to Hines Ward, who was wide open for a 49-yard gain to the 10.
Baltimore, though, tied it, 20-20, when McClain ran 2 yards for a touchdown with 4:02 left. Regulation ended, and then Baltimore won the coin toss and elected to receive. A holding penalty on the kickoff gave Baltimore the ball on its 15.
Lawrence Timmons ended that series with a sack of Flacco back to the 12.
The Steelers took over after the punt at their 43 to open the winning drive. They moved 29 yards on seven plays to set up Reed's winner.
"I knew we were going to get in my range," Reed said.
Ed Bouchette can be reached at email@example.com . First Published September 30, 2008 5:00 AM