Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center, completes a pass despite being presuured by Ravens' Terrell Suggs, left, and Elivis Dumervil during the eventual game-winning drive in the fourth quarter. The Steelers defeated the Ravens by score of 31 to 27 at Heinz Field.(Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun)
That's when things got weird. The Steelers' offense got rolling. And Roethlisberger got the best of a defense that has tormented him with an unbelievable 75-yard drive to seal the playoff-bound Steelers' 31-27 win in the final seconds Sunday.
The Steelers' fourth quarter was better than any script could deliver. As receiver Antonio Brown stretched over the goal line for a 4-yard touchdown, with Ravens safety Eric Weddle draped across his chest, the Steelers capped a fourth quarter that produced 240 yards of offense and three touchdowns.
Man, Ravens-Steelers never disappoints. Best rivalry in the game.
And the Steelers just slayed a Ravens dragon that has been breathing fire in their backyard for years -- clinching the AFC North and the No. 3 seed in the process.
"I have to get the ball in -- I have to get the ball in," Brown said of Roethlisberger trusting him on a delayed cut toward the middle. Brown caught the ball at the 1 and fought for the final yard.
"I know I'm going to take some contact," Brown said, "and I knew after that I was going to be able to get the ball in."
The Steelers stayed cool throughout, especially when they received the kickoff with 1:18 left after the Ravens scored a touchdown to go ahead 27-24. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was even joking with players that their remaining two timeouts were more than the one timeout they get during two-minute-drill sessions in practice. The result was five different Steelers catching a pass, and Roethlisberger completing all eight attempts (not counting two spikes).
"We were confident," said running back Le'Veon Bell, who finished with 122 rushing yards and two touchdowns total. "Before the drive started, I told AB [Brown], 'Watch, you're going to get the game-winning touchdown, man.' If you don't get it, I'm going to get it. ... You've got to speak it into existence."
Let's be honest, this was shaping up to be a costly résumé loss for the Steelers. Losing a fifth straight game to the Ravens, the latest all but knocking the Steelers out of the playoffs, would have lingered for a long time. For as great as Roethlisberger's career has been, his seven interceptions in the past four meetings against Baltimore was a black mark -- one that he just smudged with a gold Sharpie.
The difference was an explosion of offense over 5 minutes and 5 seconds of game clock early in the fourth quarter. From Ravens kicker Justin Tucker's field goal with 14:21 left in the fourth quarter to about the 7:16 mark, the Steelers boomed 165 yards of total offense against the Ravens' stout front. Brown was suddenly getting open and Roethlisberger shrugged off the two picks, working the middle of the field to a bevy of playmakers, from Jesse James to Eli Rogersto Demarcus Ayers in his rookie game-action debut.
Roethlisberger said the offense went into "attack mode, we went all no-huddle" in the fourth, and it worked perfectly on a day when eight Steelers caught a pass.
After Bell's second touchdown, the Steelers left you wondering where that offense had been for much of the previous 30 minutes. Between a brilliant 87-yard opening drive to early in the fourth quarter, the Steelers got nothing on offense and let the Ravens dictate the pace. Bell was great throughout, but Baltimore was imposing its will on Pittsburgh for much of the first three quarters, despite the defense's best efforts.
The Steelers' final score offset the Ravens' impressive 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive for that short-lived 27-24 lead.
In the final seconds, Brown said the Steelers were thinking touchdown, not field goal. If he hadn't crossed the goal line after taking the short pass from Roethlisberger, the Steelers would have had nine seconds to get off a snap and spike it.
"We had to stay positive," Brown said. "We've got a great quarterback. Don't blink."
This game was much bigger than the playoff implications. The Steelers had a Ravens problem. But no longer.
In a rivalry this heated, it's nearly impossible to overcome miscues like this, but the Steelers somehow overcame these:
* Missed tackles on Ravens fullbackKyle Juszczyk allowed a 10-yard touchdown run that gave Baltimore the 27-24 lead.
* When a tired defense needed help late, Roethlisberger threw into double coverage and Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley nabbed an interception, giving the Ravens prime field position yet again.
* Steelers place-kicker Chris Boswell had two kickoffs go out of bounds.
* Ravens QB Joe Flacco picked apart the middle of the field early, completing 13 of his first 18 pass attempts for 139 yards and a touchdown between the numbers.
* On third-and-1 with 6:59 left in the third quarter, the Steelers' defense had Kenneth Dixonstopped behind the line of scrimmage, but his second effort got the first down and chewed more clock.
* Time of possession heavily favored the Ravens, about 1.5-to-1 at one point.
* To begin the second half, Roethlisberger threw to seldom-used tight end David Johnson, who watched the ball sail over his head for a pick.
* Steelers safetySean Davishad a clear shot at Flacco on a blitz but went right around him.
After all that, what's left is cushy playoff positioning and eyes on a potential seventh Super Bowl win.
"We showed some resolve," said Roethlisberger, who threw for 166 of his 279 yards in the fourth quarter. "That showed some fight, no quit. You never heard anything from the defense [after the second interception], you never saw them get down. ... We can only stick together."