Steelers Notebook: Game ends with some spit and a shove


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BALTIMORE -- The Ravens and Steelers played one of their typical games, without the kind of obvious rancor that has dotted the series -- almost to the end.

And then Baltimore cornerback Frank Walker had to go and spoil it. At least that's what Steelers punter Mitch Berger said afterward.

Berger accused Walker of spitting in his face after Jeff Reed kicked the point after on Santonio Holmes' winning 4-yard touchdown catch.

"The guy dove, he tried to take out Jeff's knee," said Berger, who holds for Reed's kicks. "I went over there and he got up and he spit in my face -- and they called it on Jeff for pushing him!"

Reed drew a 15-yard penalty that was marked off on his kickoff after the score.

"I tried to get in the middle to separate him but he got in my face and spit right in my mouth. He spit right in my mouth. I'm still trying to spit that ... out. I was talking to him, trying to separate everybody and he spit right in my mouth."

A tip of the cap

Many of the Steelers wore baseball caps announcing them as AFC North Division champions after the game, but you won't see them on their heads anymore.

"To put this hat on and know what you've got," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said while wearing one. "But, I tell you what, you won't see any of us wearing this hat come tomorrow or Tuesday, because it's time to bear down and finish this thing off."

The Steelers clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the conference yesterday, which means they have a bye into the second round of the playoffs and a game at home. Tennessee, at 11-2, holds the No. 1 seed at the moment, but the Steelers can get a leg up on that one with a victory Sunday in Nashville. If they beat the Titans, they will earn the No. 1 seed by beating Cleveland in Heinz Field in the regular-season finale.

"To me, there's no pressure," Roethlisberger said of the game at Tennessee. "It's not like we have to win. We want to win. I think we can play relaxed and have fun."

Big Ben delivers

The Steelers won for the 17th time in the final period when tied or behind with Roethlisberger as their quarterback, and for the second consecutive game.

"I think there was an overwhelming sense that 'We have to do this.' That's how we play," coach Mike Tomlin said of the 92-yard winning drive led by Roethlisberger with seven pass completions. "When rubber meets the road, we have to deliver plays. Our quarterback wants to be the man to deliver them."

All is forgiven

Tomlin publicly and privately admonished Willie Parker last week for complaining about the way the running game has been used this season. Saturday night, he patted him on the back by making him an honorary captain for the game.

Parker and the Steelers' ground game were not particularly effective against the second-best defense in the NFL, but he did have one 10-yard run and finished with 47 yards, part of a 91-yard rushing effort by the Steelers.

"Coach appointed [me] captain right before the game, and I just rolled," said Parker. "We definitely rolled. They knew my frustration, and they know that I'm a team player. Everyone on the team knows that.

"Some of the guys came to me all throughout the week and told me to just hang in there and everything's going to work. But right now, this just feels great."

From low to high

Before he became a hero, Holmes was a goat yesterday. He dropped one pass, fumbled after catching a pass, and muffed a punt. The fumble turned into a Baltimore field goal, but he got fortunate on the punt -- teammate Keyaron Fox recovered the ball and ran 18 yards with it.

"I was just trying to make a play and make something happen," he said of his botched punt. "Things weren't going well for us at that point, so I was probably trying too hard."

Quick hits

• The attendance of 71,502 was a record at M&T Bank Stadium.

• Berger did a much better job of punting than he did in the previous two games, although his 42-yard average was whittled to a 27.0 net by some good Ravens returns.

• The Steelers had only two sacks, one by Aaron Smith and one by Lawrence Timmons, the latter pushing Baltimore out of field goal range and forcing a punt that started the Steelers' winning 92-yard drive.

Hines Ward had his third 100-yard game with eight receptions for 107 yards, and he needs 136 yards in the final two games to hit 1,000 yards for the first time since 2004. He also moved past 10,000 career yards from scrimmage, to 10,031.

• The Steelers have outscored their past three opponents, 37-0, in the fourth quarter.

• With the victory, Tomlin set a Steelers record with 21 wins in his first two seasons as head coach. He is the first Steelers coach to win division titles in his first two years. The win was also the 550th in Steelers history. It is the first AFC team to reach that plateau.

• The Steelers were 8 for 17 on third down, a 47 percent conversion rate, against a Ravens defense that was permitting only 29.5 percent on third down.

• The Steelers are 5-0 against the AFC North, with only Cleveland remaining Dec. 28.

• Roethlisberger has thrown just one interception in the past five games. He has won 10 consecutive games against divisional opponents.

• The Steelers have allowed only three 100-yard rushing performances in the past 80 games. The Ravens ran their streak of not allowing a 100-rusher to 33 games.

• The Steelers became only the second team to score more than 10 points against Baltimore at home -- Tennessee is the other.

• The Ravens had allowed a total of 13 points in the past nine fourth quarters. The Steelers got 10 yesterday.

Inactives

Steelers: No. 3 QB Dennis Dixon, CB Fernando Bryant, LB Bruce Davis, OT Tony Hills, DL Scott Paxson, OT Marvel Smith, DE Orpheus Roye, DE Brett Keisel.

Baltimore Ravens: No. 3 QB Todd Bouman, WR Terrance Cooper, WR Marcus Maxwell, CB Evan Oglesby, RB Ray Rice, RB Jalen Parmele, OT Oniel Cousins, OT David Hale.


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com . Gene Collier of the Post-Gazette contributed to this report.


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