NFL Nation: 2013 Week 13 PIT at BAL

Emmanuel SandersRob Carr/Getty ImagesEmmanuel Sanders was unable to hold onto the conversion attempt that would have tied the game.

BALTIMORE -- Fernando Velasco sat in front of his locker as a trainer fit his right foot for a boot and then adjusted the crutches that the Steelers center needed to walk out of M&T Bank Stadium.

The Steelers were a lot like Velasco at the end of another classic slugfest with their bitter rivals and mirror image.

Banged up following a valiant effort, the Steelers are also in need of some assistance after losing a 22-20 heartbreaker to the Ravens in a game each team badly needed to win.

For all that prevented the Steelers from sweeping the Ravens for the first time since 2008 -- the early play-calling was as mystifying as it was conservative and there were assorted special-teams blunders -- they had the home team right where they wanted it after Ben Roethlisberger calmly flipped a 1-yard touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery on fourth down.

The Steelers called the same exact play on the two-point conversion that would have tied a game. Roethlisberger went to the other side of the field this time, noting that that Chykie Brown had just entered the game at cornerback for the injured Jimmy Smith and had man coverage on Emmanuel Sanders.

Roethlisberger threw a quick, back-shoulder pass to Sanders, and the ball sailed through the hands of the player who fashions himself as a No. 1 receiver.

A lame onside kick attempt by Shaun Suisham sealed the Steelers' seventh loss in 12 games, and the defeat means Pittsburgh has to win its final four games just to give itself a chance of making the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team.

“I don't expect any quit,” a resolute Roethlisberger said after almost pulling off one of his patented fourth-quarter comebacks. “We haven't quit to this point. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.”

The Steelers did just that after falling behind 13-0 and after injuries scrambled their offensive line more than usual. They also saw one of their players knocked out cold but were, oddly enough, the team penalized in the name of safety.

Le'Veon Bell, who had the best game of his promising career, appeared to score a touchdown with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter. It came after a frightening collision with Smith near the goal line that caused Bell's helmet to pop off just before he fell across the goal line. A prayer circle quickly formed as medical personnel tended to the concussed Bell, and by the time he had been helped to his feet a rule that is supposed to protect players had taken the touchdown off the scoreboard. Since plays are ruled dead the moment a runner's helmet comes off, the ball was placed at the 1-yard line following a booth review of Bell's score.

The Steelers needed two more plays to score their third touchdown of the second half against a Ravens team that has one of the best red-zone defenses in the NFL. But they ultimately came up a play short in yet another Steelers-Ravens game that was was tighter than a shrunken turtleneck.

One thing that bodes well for the Steelers staying together and at least making a run at 9-7 is how quickly players were to accept blame for the loss.

“It's my fault that we lost,” Sanders said. “It's something I've got to deal with, but I'm not going to let it hold me down. Redemption Sunday is coming up.”

Sanders acknowledged that Brown did a good job of shielding the ball from his line of vision on the two-point conversion, but added, “That's no excuse. I consider myself a big-time player. I've got to come up with those plays.”

Troy Polamalu said the Steelers' defense didn't make enough plays even though it kept the Ravens out of the end zone after Baltimore's first possession of the game.

“Their defense played better than ours,” the Pro Bowl strong safety said. “That's what won them the game.”

Roethlisberger, meanwhile, said he could have done more to help he Steelers win even though he played brilliantly in leading the Steelers back from double-digit deficits twice in the second half.

Roethlisberger completed 28 of 44 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, and he had the Ravens' defense on its heels by the end of the game.

Had the Steelers attacked more in the first half than they did in the final two quarters they may have never needed Sanders to make what would have been a tough catch to send the game into overtime.

But an insipid offensive game plan made it look like the Steelers were playing not to lose when they had every reason in the world to do whatever it took to win.

The Steeler managed just 98 yards on total offense in the first half, and they didn't score before halftime for the first time this season. The Steelers went with a no-huddle attack almost exclusively in the second half.

“Maybe we should have done it earlier and maybe I should have voiced that more, so I'll take that [blame] myself as well,” Roethlisberger said.

Such selflessness in defeat isn't easy to muster, especially given all that was on the line and all of the good the Steelers did only to wind up with a loss.

As Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, “I appreciate the effort of the guys, but we didn't come down here with effort in mind. We came here to win.”

That's what made Roethlisberger and Sanders such a compelling sight as the latter walked to his locker after the loss that the Steelers may not be able to overcome. Roethlisberger pulled Sanders close and talked to him.

"That's for us," Roethlisberger later said of the conversation. "In general [it was], 'Keep your head up.'"

The Steelers will try to do the same.
Joe FlaccoEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJoe Flacco completed 24 of 35 passes for 251 yards and a touchdown against Pittsburgh.

BALTIMORE -- The Baltimore Ravens are a team that's improving and getting closer to looking like a playoff team. They're just not there yet, and you can't put all of the blame on Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin for standing in the Ravens' way.

The Ravens need to find their finishing touch if they want to make the playoffs and make noise in the postseason. The defending Super Bowl champions have to finish off drives on offense and finish off teams before the final minute of the game.

The Ravens played well enough to win in a nail-biting 22-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, but no one would've been sweating out a two-point conversion if they had delivered a complete game. While many will chalk this up to another classic thriller between these two teams, quarterback Joe Flacco left feeling more frustrated than anything else.

This would've been a statement game if the Ravens had scored touchdowns instead of kicking field goals. This would've been over long before a last-minute stand if the defense could've put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger and stuck with the Steelers speedy receivers.

The Ravens should be proud of the fact that they moved into sole possession of the AFC's final playoff spot and put more heat on the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals. They just shouldn't be satisfied.

"You got to continue to work because we haven't hit our peak yet," safety James Ihedigbo said. "We're playing good football and we're playing well enough to win. Once we hit our peak and hit full stride, I feel sorry for our opponents."

The Ravens' offense scored on six of nine drives. The only problem is that five of them ended with field goals, not touchdowns. There were too many penalties (four false starts in your home stadium is inexcusable) and too many other lapses in Pittsburgh territory, whether it was poor throw by Flacco or another sack given up by right tackle Michael Oher.

The Ravens' defense shut out the Steelers for the first 38½ minutes and stopped the Steelers on a game-tying two-point conversion with 63 seconds in the game. But the Ravens nearly squandered a 12-point fourth-quarter lead by failing to get any pressure on Roethlisberger and losing track of the Steelers wide receivers in coverage.

Flacco believes the Ravens are on the cusp of playing up to expectations.

"You could taste it, and we just didn’t convert a lot," said Flacco, who was 24-of-35 for 251 yards and a touchdown. "I’m honestly pretty happy with how we played tonight and how we performed. We’ve just got to get better at those little things that are going to get us over the edge.”

Can the Ravens make the needed corrections with only four weeks left?

"It’s not hard stuff; it’s just simple little things that you do every day," Flacco said. "It’s not like we don’t have the ability, we don’t have the talent, or we don’t have the work ethic. It’s not like we don’t have any of those things. It’s just the little things that we’re losing concentration for a half of a second, or whatever it is. [It is] very easily fixed.”

The Ravens gave the teams watching them on national television Thursday night some reason for concern.

For the second straight week, Flacco stretched the field with a 54-yard pass to Torrey Smith and a 34-yarder to Jacoby Jones. The defense held a team to 20 or fewer points for the fifth time in seven games. And the special teams keep making an impact with Justin Tucker's leg (a career-high five field goals) and Jones' returns (his 73-yarder off a kickoff was a momentum-changer).

The Ravens have gone from being a 3-5 team at the start of November to a 6-6 team by the end of it. Baltimore took control of the sixth seed and closed to within 1½ games of the Bengals (7-4), who play at San Diego on Sunday.

"I feel like we're getting there," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We just have to stay the course. This is the grind and this is the fight. We definitely got to win out to guarantee us a spot. We have four left and we pretty much need all four."

Time is running out on the Ravens to hit their stride. After playing host to the struggling Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1) next Sunday, the Ravens face three teams who either lead a division or are tied for the lead: at the Detroit Lions (7-5), home against the New England Patriots (8-3) and at the Bengals.

By the end of the regular season, the Ravens will have earned a playoff spot if they can peak at the right time and survive this brutal end-of-the-season stretch.

"We’re in control of our destiny," coach John Harbaugh said. "It’s up to us to win games. I’m proud of our guys finding a way to win the last two games and finishing the way they have. I feel like we’re getting there. I feel like we’re a really good football team. But you need to go out and prove it; you need to prove it every week.”

Rapid Reaction: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 28, 2013

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 22-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.

What it means: The Steelers' most heartbreaking loss of the season also dropped them out of contention in the AFC North. At 5-7, the Steelers probably have to win their final four games to make the AFC playoffs as a wild-card team. The offense started slow but finished with a flourish and the defense played well enough for the Steelers to win. Who knows what the outcome may have been had a tying two-point conversion pass not gone through Emmanuel Sanders' hands? The last of a handful of Sanders' drops allowed the Ravens to escape with a two-point victory.

Stock watch: Special teams cost the Steelers a chance to even their record and sweep the Ravens for the first time since 2008. A botched field-goal attempt in the first quarter -- kicker Shaun Suisham appeared to be on a different snap count than everyone else -- cost the Steelers three points. It also gave the Ravens a short field that they turned into three points. In addition to that six-point swing, the Steelers gave up a 73-yard kickoff return that led to a Ravens field goal. And Suisham's feeble on-side kick attempt sealed the loss for the Steelers.

Best foot forward: Fans booed lustily when a shot of Steelers coach Mike Tomlin flashed on the M&T Bank Stadium scoreboard late in the late third quarter. The pro-Ravens crowd had good reason to jeer the seventh-year coach and not just because of their general dislike of the Steelers. Tomlin had his foot on the field right before Jacoby Jones raced past him on the way to a 73-yard kickoff return. Tomlin should have been hit with an unsportsmanlike penalty, and the non-call turned out to be significant as the Ravens had to settle for the third of Justin Tucker's four field goals.

Worilds brings more heat: With LaMarr Woodley again sidelined by a nagging calf injury, Jason Worilds excelled again at left outside linebacker. The fourth-year veteran continues to push his way into the Steelers' future plans -- and perhaps Woodley out of Pittsburgh. Worilds collected two sacks and made eight tackles, and that was just in the first half. Worilds may have been the best defensive player on the field, and he now leads the Steelers with six sacks. Woodley, who can't seem to stay on the field, has five sacks, and he is looking more and more like a candidate for the Steelers to part ways with after this season if they can re-sign Worilds, who will be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

What's next: The Steelers get an extended break before returning to action Dec. 8 against the Dolphins at Heinz Field. The Dolphins got off to a promising start but their season has been engulfed in turmoil since the allegations of locker-room bullying turned into a national story. The Dolphins, who will be 6-6 at best after Sunday, haven't beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh since 1990.

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

November, 28, 2013

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 22-20 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: In a rivalry that has been defined by close finishes, the Ravens (6-6) came up big in a must-win game and took over sole possession of the sixth and final playoff spot in the AFC. Baltimore ended the Steelers' three-game winning streak and split the season series with Pittsburgh (5-7). With their third win in four weeks, the Ravens closed to within 1 games of the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals (7-4). Baltimore also evened its record for the first time since Week 6.

Game-saving stand: After allowing a 1-yard touchdown to Jerricho Cotchery, the Ravens broke up a game-tying two-point conversion with 63 seconds left in the game. Backup cornerback Chykie Brown had coverage on Emmanuel Sanders and didn't let him have a clear look at Ben Roethlisberger's pass to the end zone. It's the fifth straight meeting between the Ravens and Steelers decided by three or fewer points. This was redemption for a Ravens defense that allowed a game-winning drive in Pittsburgh as time expired last month.

Stock watch: Rising: Torrey Smith. The wide receiver scored Baltimore's only touchdown of the game when he caught a 7-yard pass in the end zone. It's his third touchdown in four games. Smith finished with five catches for 83 yards.

Where's the flag? Jacoby Jones returned a kickoff 73 yards following the Steelers' touchdown in the third quarter. He would have run it back for a touchdown, but he was slowed by Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, who had his back turned to the play and was in the field of play. The Ravens eventually settled for a field goal on that drive.

Tucker for MVP: Kicker Justin Tucker is making a strong case to be the Ravens' Most Valuable Player. He kicked five field goals, hitting from 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards, respectively. Tucker has made 27 straight field goals, which is the longest current streak in the NFL and second-longest in Ravens history.

Rough in red zone: The Ravens, who entered the game with the best red-zone defense in the NFL, gave up touchdowns on both drives inside their 20-yard line. Baltimore also allowed a one-yard touchdown to Le'Veon Bell. It was only the second rushing touchdown given up by the Ravens this season.

What's next: The Ravens wrap up their three-game homestand by playing the Minnesota Vikings (2-8-1) on Dec. 8.