Steelers vs. Ravens: Remembering fourth-and-29
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For years to come, the mere mention of the phrase will remind the Baltimore Ravens faithful of where they were or what they were doing at that moment.
But the phrase will represent more than a moment, more than the day Ray Rice, with one of the great individual efforts of the 2012 season, found a way to turn a most-improbable situation into another Ravens victory. It will represent a mindset, a mantra, a way of professional life.
It won't rank up there with The Catch, The Drive, The Fumble or even The Ice Bowl. And it surely won't come close to equaling the play that, 40 years later, still ranks as the greatest in National Football League history -- the Immaculate Reception.
But, in the pantheon of Ravens history, fourth-and-twentynine will serve to crystallize just what the franchise with the Barney colors has been about in the John Harbaugh era:
That the Ravens have an uncanny penchant for finding ways to win.
This is not a foreign concept to the Steelers. They have exhibited the same quality for years, most recently during their run to the Super Bowl in 2010. But they have also witnessed and served as victims to what it is that the Ravens do so alarmingly well, especially in their past three meetings at Heinz Field.
They are hoping they do not see it again today when the teams meet for the second time in three weeks at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. If they do, the Steelers will be eliminated from having any chance to win the AFC North title.
"Really, if you look at what happened this past weekend, it's really a capsule of what they are capable of," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's really just a snapshot of what the Ravens have been about this year. They have found ways to win. That's what winning teams do. We better be prepared to match that level of intensity and camaraderie."
That's what the Ravens faced last week from their own 37-yard line, trailing the San Diego Chargers, 13-10, with 1:59 remaining.
Rice took a dump pass from quarterback Joe Flacco, started up the right side of the field and cut across the middle. With eight Chargers defenders between him and the first-down marker, including three directly in front of him, Rice somehow managed to make all of them miss before being tackled at the Chargers 34.
The conversion kept the drive alive and allowed Justin Tucker to send the game into overtime with a field goal. The Ravens won the game in overtime on another Tucker field goal.
According to ESPN Stats and Info, it was the longest first-down conversion without a penalty since the Buffalo Bills converted a fourth-and-34 in 2001.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs said on Twitter, "It was one of the most amazing plays I've ever seen in a football game."
"It was a total war play," Rice said earlier in the week. "I just tried to make a play, which is something I've always tried to do since I became a Raven. It got set up by many different things, Anquan Boldin's block, and I tried to give just a little more effort to try to get the first down afterwards."
The Ravens have been doing that all season, which is why they carry a 9-2 record into today's game. They've done a good job of finding ways to win against the Steelers, especially the past three games at Heinz Field. To wit:
• In 2010, after the Ravens forced a three-and-out against Charlie Batch, Flacco completed three consecutive passes and threw an 18-yard touchdown to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 38 seconds remaining for a 17-14 victory.
• Last year, Flacco threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with 8 seconds remaining to cap a 92-yard, 13-play drive and beat the Steelers, 23-20.
• And, two weeks ago, in a game in which they managed just 200 yards offense and 12 first downs, the Ravens pulled out a 13-10 victory when Jacoby Jones scored their only touchdown on a 63-yard punt return.
Finding ways to win is essential in this rivalry because nine of the past 12 meetings have been decided by six points or fewer. The Ravens are 5-4 in those nine games.
"I think we are just growing up as a team," Rice said. "We've been on the other end of the situation where we found ways not to pull it out. The growth and maturity of this team, we are just finding ways to win games. ...
"I am in my fifth year. Joe Flacco is in his fifth year. We are a pretty mature team now that is finding ways to win games. That's a testament to how hard we work. The ball has rolled in the opposite direction before, where we've been in close games and have lost them. Now we've been in close games and are finding ways to win. It feels good knowing that the tide has changed a little bit. We are getting more mature as we grow."
Rice and his teammates, though, might have learned how to do this by watching the Steelers, who have dealt them many painful losses in the past five seasons, none more excruciating than in 2008.
That was the year the Steelers clinched the division title in Baltimore on Dec. 14 with a 13-9 victory, a game in which Santonio Holmes caught a debated 4-yard touchdown with 43 seconds remaining.
When the Ravens came to Heinz Field for the AFC championship game, the Steelers beat them for a third time, 23-14, when Troy Polamalu returned an interception 40 yards for a touchdown.
Equally painful was the Steelers' 13-10 victory in Baltimore on Dec. 5, 2010, a game in which Polamalu stripped the ball from Flacco with 3:13 remaining, setting up the winning touchdown that gave the Steelers the division title and another path to the Super Bowl.
"It's something that you guys have seen in Pittsburgh for so many years, and that's been their calling card," said Harbaugh, who has taken the Ravens to the postseason in each of his five years as head coach. "I like our guys. I love our team. We really work hard. They care about each other, and I think they've got some confidence and trust in one another.
"But I see the same thing with the Steelers. They've done a great job of dealing with adversity and those things like they always do, and you see it in the things their players say, which is very impressive. Both of these teams and both of these programs reflect whatever those things are."
The Steelers, though, have been unable to do that this season, losing close games to the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Titans and Cleveland Browns -- teams who have a combined 10 victories -- because of failures to make big plays at critical moments. They did the same thing in 2009 when they lost to the Raiders, Kansas City Chiefs and Browns, teams who had a combined 14 victories that season. That season didn't end well.
The 2009 season was a year of missed opportunities and missed playoffs -- the only one of Mike Tomlin's six-year career as head coach.
The Steelers lost two games in overtime on the road -- to the Raiders and Chiefs -- when they muffed chances to avoid defeat.
But rookie cornerback Joe Burnett dropped an easy interception against the Raiders that kept alive the tying field-goal drove. And Ike Taylor dropped an interception one play before the Chiefs connected on a 61-yard pass to set up the winning field goal.
Contrast that to 2010 when they won two overtime games on the road, one of which when Buffalo's Stevie Johnson dropped what would have been the winning touchdown in the end zone. The Steelers got several breaks that season as well, including a holding penalty that wiped out Chris Johnson's 85-yard touchdown run in Tennessee and a controversial replay ruling in Miami in which Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown sneak was overturned and ruled a fumble but the Steelers were still awarded the ball because replay could not determine who recovered.
But they also made plays -- Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard touchdown run in overtime against Atlanta, rookie Antonio Brown's 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Tennessee, Polamalu's late interception in Buffalo and, of course, his strip-sack in Baltimore
All part of finding ways to win -- something the Steelers haven't done much of this season.
"That's a way of life around here -- being physical and a mentally tough team," said nose tackle Casey Hampton, who has been part of five AFC vhampionship and three Super Bowl teams in his tenure with the Steelers. "From [Bill] Cowher to Mike T, that's just what they preach. That's the way guys are. We're built like that."
So are the Ravens.
First Published December 2, 2012 12:00 am