Joe Flacco had never beaten Ben Roethlisberger before this season and now he has gone ahead and made a habit of it.
The Baltimore Ravens and their quarterback got over the Pittsburgh hump Sunday night in a big way at Heinz Field. Flacco led a 92-yard drive in the final 2 1/2 minutes that ended with his 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie Torrey Smith with eight seconds left.
He delivered a 23-20 victory against Roethlisberger and the Steelers for the second time this season as the Ravens grabbed control of the AFC North Division from their most heated rivals. Baltimore and surprising Cincinnati, the Steelers next opponent, are tied at the top with 6-2 records. The Steelers slipped to 6-3 and would lose the tiebreaker to Baltimore if they wind up with the same record at the end of the season.
"They are the better team," safety Ryan Clark stated after taking some blame on the winning touchdown pass. "They are a better football team than we are right now."
The Steelers had rebounded nicely from their opening 35-7 loss at Baltimore they called embarrassing to win four in a row entering the rematch. They fell behind, 16-
6, but then Roethlisberger and his offense put it in high gear in the no-huddle offense and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to take a 20-16 lead.
They then reached Baltimore's 29 with 2:37 to go and facing a third-and-5. At first, coach Mike Tomlin sent out Shaun Suisham to try what would have been a 47-yard field goal. But Tomlin, unsure, hesitated and his team was penalized for delay of game and then decided to punt.
"I was concerned about that distances," Tomlin said. "We had some changes in personnel with a new holder. Under the circumstances, I didn't want to give them the ball on that short of a field."
Still it appeared to work out when a fair catch of Jeremy Kapinos' punt at the 8. If the Ravens wanted to beat the Steelers, they would have to go 92 yards in 2:24 against the NFL's No. 2 defense and No. 1 against the pass.
"I'll take it," Roethlisberger said of that situation.
"I felt good about where they were," Tomlin said. "We had a four-point lead and our defense was on the field."
But Flacco made them pay dearly. He completed 7 of 13 passes for all 92 yards. He should have scored earlier but Smith dropped a pass in the end zone.
Flacco converted two third downs and a fourth down on that drive. On the final pass, Smith ran a deep route to the right part of the end zone with cornerback William Gay covering. But Clark said there was a miscommunication and he should have given Gay some help.
"I should have been over the top to help William," Clark said. "It was a good throw by Joe and a great catch by Torrey, but it's all me."
The loss ruined a couple of good comeback performances, one by linebacker James Harrison. He returned after missing four games with a broken orbital bone to sack Flacco three times, the final one forcing a fumble that set the Steelers up with their go-ahead touchdown drive. The other was Roethlisberger's two fourth-quarter touchdown drives that brought his team back from a 16-6 deficit.
Roethlisberger completed 20 of 37 passes for 330 yards, becoming the first quarterback in franchise history to pass for 300 yards in three consecutive games. He did throw one interception, on the first series of the third quarter at Baltimore's 14. Antonio Brown caught five passes for 109 yards.
Flacco was 29 of 47 for 300 yards and no interceptions. Most incredibly, the Ravens converted 14 of 21 third-down situations, double their high from any other game this season.
Provided Cincinnati isn't involved at the end of the season, the Steelers would have to finish one game better than Baltimore in order to win the division.
"We'll lick our wounds and we have another tough one next week," Brett Keisel said. "There's a lot of football left to play."
Unable to find the end zone through three quarters, Roethlisberger led his team on two fourth-quarter touchdowns to bring the Steelers from 10 points down.
Roethlisberger, scrambling to his right, threw on the run and hit Mike Wallace for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 4:59 left for a 20-16 lead.
"I never thought it was over," Wallace said. "Not until the clock shows 0:00. They find ways to win, just as we find ways to win."
That score came on third down, and was made possible by Harrison's sack and forced fumble at the Steelers' 42.
"That's the type of effort we expect from James because he consistently delivers it," Tomlin said.
The Steelers, trailing 16-6, scored their first touchdown early in the fourth quarter on Rashard Mendenhall's 1-yard run to make it a 3-point game.
The Ravens scored their first touchdown of the game in the third quarter, after Suggs intercepted Roethlisberger from the 14.
The Ravens mounted the first touchdown drive of the game from their 29 to go ahead 16-6. With the Steelers pass defense on the field, Ray Rice ran up the middle on second down for a 4-yard touchdown.
That extended Baltimore's halftime lead, which stood at 9-6.
Billy Cundiff kicked three field goals and Suisham two in the first half.
Baltimore struck first with a field goal for a 3-0 lead and the Steelers were fortunate for many reasons they did not strike a bigger blow.
Ray Rice ran 76 yards for a touchdown on the first play of the game, but the play was called back because Smith was penalized for holding.
First Published November 7, 2011 5:45 AM