BALTIMORE -- Big games call for big plays from big players, and none came bigger for the Steelers Sunday night than the one delivered by Troy Polamalu.
With their chances of victory and a division title slipping through the Steelers' hands, Polamalu blitzed and sacked Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco and forced a fumble that led to the winning touchdown.
The offense made it count when Ben Roethlisberger completed a 9-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Redman with 2:59 that delivered a 13-10 victory.
"They're over there sick right now," wide receiver Hines Ward said of the Ravens, who would have been in the driver's seat had they won.
The victory lifted the Steelers to 9-3 and a one-game lead over the Ravens in the AFC North Division. The Steelers also cling to a tiebreaker with the best record within the division.
"Does it surprise you?" Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel said of Polamalu's
game-turner. "It doesn't surprise us, either. We see that all the time."
With the Ravens holding a 4-point lead and the ball at their 43 with less than four minutes to go, Polamalu blitzed off his right side and hit Flacco, slashing his right arm and causing a fumble.
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley returned the fumble 19 yards to the 9.
The Steelers were blitzing to stop the run, but Flacco dropped back to pass and no one even tried to block Polamalu, who came from Flacco's blind side.
"A lot of guys would just go in there and sack the quarterback," coach Mike Tomlin said. "He sees the game differently."
After two pass incompletions, Roethlisberger dumped a short pass over the middle to Redman at the 7. Redman powered through two tackles and bounced into the end zone for a 13-10 Steelers lead with 2:51 left.
"I compliment that guy," Tomlin said of Redman, who was stopped on several short-yardage plays, including one from the 2 in which he lost 2 yards. "He kept plugging and made a significant play."
Baltimore wasn't done yet. The Ravens drove to the Steelers' 31 on the next series. They had fourth-and-2 from there and, instead of trying a 49-yard field goal into the wind, went for the first down. Flacco's pass bounced incomplete.
"It was just a tough wind up there," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh explained as to why he did not have Billy Cundiff try the field goal to tie it. "It was really outside of our range ... We felt like we had a better chance to get the first down than we had to get that field goal."
In a typically brutal hitting game by these two rivals, several players left the field with injuries and did not return, including Steelers tight end Heath Miller (concussion), offensive right tackle Flozell Adams (high ankle sprain) and punter Daniel Sepulveda (torn ACL). Baltimore lost tight end Todd Heap (hamstring).
The Steelers scored the final 10 points to erase a 10-3 Baltimore lead. Shaun Suisham -- pressed into punting duty after Sepulveda's injury -- kicked a 19-yard field goal with 12:46 left after Baltimore's defense kept the Steelers from the end zone after they had a first down at the 2.
Flacco completed two big passes to Anquan Boldin on the only scoring drive of the first half. Boldin caught the first for 61 yards on a play that started from the Ravens' 3. The next was a 14-yard touchdown catch.
The Steelers reached Baltimore territory several times. One ended on an interception of Roethlisberger at the 2, the other when Ward dropped a pass at the 26.
The Ravens and Steelers traded quick and ineffective early series, but the visitors were gaining ground in field position. Baltimore was driven back to its 3 after a penalty on third-and-15.
On the next play, Boldin ran in motion to the right and into the slot, where safety Ryan Clark faced him. Boldin bolted down the middle, blowing past Clark and catching a perfectly thrown pass from Flacco for a 61-yard pickup to the Steelers' 36. Flacco ended that series, which officially covered 92 yards but actually covered 97 by tossing a 14-yard pass in the middle of the end zone to the wide-open Boldin.
The Steelers reached Baltimore's 45 after Roethlisberger completed a 25-yard pass to tight end David Johnson. On second down, Roethlisberger threw deep to Antonio Brown, and cornerback Josh Wilson intercepted at the 2. The Steelers had another drive going at the Baltimore 38 when, on third down, Ward dropped a pass at the 26 that hit him in both hands.
The game was taking its toll. Baltimore lost Heap on the first play from scrimmage. The Steelers lost Sepulveda in the first half. In the second, Miller left with a concussion after he took a shot to the head from linebacker Jameel McClain. Carl Johnson, the NFL's head of officiating, told NBC that McClain should have been penalized on the play.
The Steelers opened the second half with their first score, a 45-yard field goal by Suisham, with Sepulveda holding. It was the 13th consecutive time in Suisham's career that he connected from between 40 and 49 yards, including all four from that range last week in Buffalo.
That drive featured a short pass to Mike Wallace, who turned it into a 33-yard gain to put the Steelers within field-goal distance.
Baltimore, though, responded with a field-goal drive of its own to go back on top by 10-3 on Cundiff's 24-yard field goal.
The Steelers seemed poised to tie it early in the fourth quarter when they reached Baltimore's 2 on a drive that started at their 20. They had a first down after Emmanuel Sanders caught a 28-yard pass from Roethlisberger, who scrambled to his right to throw it. On first down, Redman lost 2 yards. On second, Rashard Mendenhall lost 1. On third, Roethlisberger threw sideways to Wallace, who caught it at the 5 and managed to get to the 1.
The Steelers have had trouble scoring touchdowns once they get inside the 5, and it happened again, forcing Suisham to kick a 19-yard field goal that enabled the Ravens to cling to a 10-6 lead with 12:46 left and create the feeling that the game would come down to a big defensive play.
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . First Published December 6, 2010 5:15 AM