Cook: Steelers know what one big play can do

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BALTIMORE -- You knew someone was going to say it.

"It was deja vu all over again."

Turns out it was Steelers linebacker Larry Foote Sunday night after teammate James Harrison made the big defensive splash play in the 23-20 win against the Baltimore Ravens.

"I told him it reminded me of Troy's play a few years ago," Foote said.

Late in the 2010 season, safety Troy Polamalu's fourth-quarter strip-sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco brought the Steelers back from the dead in a 13-10 win that led to the AFC North Division title and a trip to Super Bowl XLV.

Sunday night, Harrison's fourth-quarter strip-sack of Flacco led to the Steelers' tying touchdown and a win that left them with a 7-5 record, one spot ahead of Cincinnati for the final wild-card spot in the AFC.

The Ravens won 15 consecutive home games between the strip-sacks.

"I remember Troy's play," Harrison said. "Troy's was real fast. Mine took a little longer. Mine was slower."

It was every bit as effective, though. Harrison crashed down on Flacco's right arm, forcing a fumble that Ziggy Hood recovered at the Ravens 27 with 9:41 left in the game. It took the Steelers just four plays to score the touchdown that tied the score, 20-20.

"That's what he does. That's why he has the big contract," Foote said of Harrison.

"You know he has the most caused fumbles in Steelers history, right?"

Well, not exactly. Harrison's 27 forced fumbles rank second behind linebacker Greg Lloyd's 36. The Steelers have been keeping that statistic since 1987. But Harrison did tie Lloyd's single-season record by causing seven fumbles in 2008 when he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"I kept reminding him he needed to force one. It was time," Foote said.

Do you think?

This was Harrison's first forced fumble of the season.

"He's been on the come. You can see he's been on the come," Foote said. "We need him to come. It's a different game when 92 is in there playing like that."

Harrison missed all of the offseason work because of a knee problem that required surgery during training camp. He missed the first three games and lacked "explosion" -- his word -- when he returned. He had a sack in his second game back but went four games without another. The sack Sunday gave him one in each of the past three games.

"He's an MVP. He made an MVP-play," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said.

It was the biggest play on a day when the Steelers defense played another strong game.

"I appreciate the fact that they didn't let go of the rope," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the defense. "I don't take it for granted."

It would have been easy for the Steelers defense to break. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley missed the game with an ankle injury. Polamalu played for the first time after missing seven games with a calf injury -- he had a quiet day with just two tackles -- but cornerback Ike Taylor left the first series with an ankle problem. It wasn't surprising that veteran backup Jason Worilds played well for Woodley. But give a lot of credit to second-year cornerbacks Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown for stepping up in the secondary.

"[Allen] showed up today," Clark said. "He had no fear. They went after him a lot and he stood up."

Allen had a 30-yard pass interference penalty and was beaten twice by Anquan Boldin, the second going for a second-quarter score. But he was credited with five tackles and broke up three passes. Brown had one pass defended.

"I thought Brown was huge," Foote said. "Allen had been playing. This was huge for Brown. It's got to help his confidence."

If nothing else, the win helped the Steelers' playoff chances. They still probably won't catch the Ravens (9-3) in the division race. But they should make the postseason if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals (7-5) at home Dec. 23.

"All you have to do is get in the tournament," nose tackle Casey Hampton said. "It doesn't matter how you get there. You just want to be that hot team in December that gets on a roll."

Polamalu's strip-sack in 2010 started the Steelers on quite a journey. They went 3-1 after the win here and beat the Ravens and the New York Jets at home in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl.

The Steelers are hoping Harrison's strip-sack leads to a similar finish. Three of their final four games are at home. Polamalu is back and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could return for the home game Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. The big concern is Taylor's ankle injury.

The final words here come from Clark.

"You want to make the dance, first of all. Then, you want to have all of your bullets when you do. If we can do those two things, we know we can beat anybody."

mobilehome - roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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