NFL Nation: Steelers-Ravens 112909

Rapid Reaction: Steelers 23, Ravens 20

December, 27, 2009
PITTSBURGH -- It was another close rivalry game between the Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. But in the end, Pittsburgh narrowly prevailed to keep its postseason hopes alive.

The Steelers won for the fourth time in five tries against Baltimore with a 23-20 victory at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh (8-7) bucked a season-long trend by holding the Ravens (8-7) scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh's win creates an extremely murky AFC wild-card picture. Both the Ravens and Steelers are in the thick of the wild-card hunt with one week remaining. It's not totally inconceivable that both Baltimore and Pittsburgh could make the playoffs, pending the outcome of key games around the league.

Next week, the Steelers will travel to play the Miami Dolphins, and Baltimore also will be on the road against the Oakland Raiders. Both will be must-win games for the Ravens and Steelers.

Pittsburgh Steelers receiver and team captain Hines Ward went on ESPN's SportsCenter Monday morning to clarify statements he made about starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
[+] EnlargeRoethlisberger
AP Photo/Gail BurtonPittsburgh lost Sunday night without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the lineup.

Ward vented his frustrations in a pre-game interview with NBC and also after the game to the media about Roethlisberger (concussion) being pulled from Sunday's starting lineup. The Steelers (6-5) lost 20-17 in overtime to the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) with backup Dennis Dixon under center.

"I’m not going to question Ben’s toughness; the guy came back from a motorcycle incident [in 2006] and played that whole year," Ward said. "So me questioning his toughness, that was never the case. It wasn't me calling Ben out.

"It was just me frustrated, because I knew what type of game Baltimore was going to be not having No. 7 out there and having our backs against the wall."

The Steelers deemed Roethlisberger fit to return and he practiced all week with the first team. Roethlisberger suffered exercise-induced headaches late in the week and was pulled the day before Pittsburgh's biggest game of the season.

Ward told NBC over the weekend that the locker room was divided about the decision.

"During the week, there was no indication that he wasn’t going to play in this game," Ward said Monday. "I was just frustrated not having him in there. One thing about Ben, he’s a winner. And we like to surround ourselves with winners."

Ward says he will speak to Roethlisberger Monday to iron things out.

The Steelers need to get hot fast or will miss a chance to defend their title in the postseason. Pittsburgh has another big game against the Oakland Raiders (3-8).

"Right now we just got to worry about Oakland and try to get better," Ward said. "But the whole situation I think kind of got blown out of proportion. It was just all frustration."

Defending champs' season on the brink

November, 30, 2009
SteelersAP Photo/Gail BurtonSteelers quarterback Dennis Dixon (2) had his moments in his first career start, but he threw a costly interception in overtime. If the season ended today, the Steelers would miss the playoffs.

BALTIMORE -- Clearly peeved, Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin promised to "unleash hell" on the rest of the NFL in December.

It's the only option the reigning champs have left after dropping their third straight game in November, a 20-17 overtime loss to the rival Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night.

This season isn't as bad as 2006, when the Steelers finished 8-8 a year after winning Super Bowl XL, but the ending may very well be the same for Pittsburgh (6-5). Several weeks from now, the Steelers could find themselves sitting at home instead of defending their title when the playoffs get under way.

If the season ended today, the Denver Broncos (7-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) would hold the two wild cards in the AFC. The mere thought of that made for an angry Steelers locker room and head coach Sunday night.

"Anybody that sees us coming, they better bring their best, because that’s what we’re bringing to the table," Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "And I back Coach [Tomlin] on that 100 percent. I work too hard in the offseason, and we worked our tails off to come out and defend our throne.

"Obviously, things haven’t turned out like we planned. The next thing is to start knocking over people's houses until we get what we want."

Based on these comments, it's clear Pittsburgh's season is officially on the brink.

Interesting subplots are also starting to develop within the locker room as frustrations mount.

For instance, veteran receiver Hines Ward, the heart and soul of the Steelers, did not hide the fact that he was very disappointed starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) didn't play Sunday night. Roethlisberger practiced all week but a decision was made not to play at the last minute, putting the Steelers in a tough spot with former third-stringer Dennis Dixon, who played well but threw a crucial interception in overtime that led to the winning score.

"This is the biggest game of the year," Ward said bluntly. "Me being a competitor, I just wished we had all our weapons out there."

Roethlisberger, who had exercise-induced headaches, said after the game that he wanted to play but doctors and coaches said it wouldn’t be a good decision. Ward later clarified his statements Monday morning on ESPN's SportsCenter and said he was just frustrated.

Tomlin, in an effort to douse the fires, plans to talk to Ward and the rest of the team to clearly explain why Roethlisberger was pulled from the starting lineup a day before the game.

"I’m not worried about a problem in the locker room," Tomlin said. "Of course, in that instance maybe Hines was uninformed."

Things like this happen when teams underperform.

The term "pressure busts pipes" can even apply to a veteran team like the Steelers, especially if things continue to go south. In Pittsburgh's case, not making the playoffs would make for one of the most disappointing seasons in recent memory.

"You come off a Super Bowl year, you got the same nucleus as a team, and to lose three in a row is frustrating," Ward said. "It’s frustrating as a player, a team and as an organization. We just got to get back on the right track."

Pittsburgh will be jousting with several teams, including the equally desperate Ravens (6-5), for one of the final playoffs slots in the AFC. Pittsburgh and Baltimore will meet again in Week 16, and most likely the Steelers will have to win four of their last five to continue playing deep into January. That is why Tomlin is creating the must-win mindset.

"We’ll go into attack mode, because that’s what's required," Tomlin said.

The reigning champs have reached a fork in the road.

The choice is up to the Steelers whether to straighten up and take the proper path to the postseason or continue their downward spiral.

"We can't let the outsiders divide us, and we can’t listen to the B.S. that's starting to float around now," Colon said. "We got to fight."
BALTIMORE -- It didn't matter who the starting quarterback was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens staged another classic in what's fast becoming one of the NFL's best rivalries. The Ravens narrowly prevailed in a physical 20-17 overtime victory over the Steelers in a big game for both teams.

Baltimore withstood Pittsburgh's best shot with a former third-string quarterback in Dennis Dixon, who played well but threw a crucial interception in overtime to set up Baltimore's game-winning field goal. Starter Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) and backup Charlie Batch (wrist) were sidelined Sunday night.

The win snaps a three-game losing streak for the Ravens in this series but currently has Baltimore (6-5) and Pittsburgh (6-5) on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason. The Denver Broncos (7-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (6-5) would be the two AFC wild-card teams if the season ended today.

Expect both the Ravens and Steelers to be banged up after this brutal overtime battle. It will be interesting to see if either team has enough left in the tank to make a strong playoff push in December. Pittsburgh will host the Oakland Raiders next week and Baltimore will travel to play the Green Bay Packers.

Dixon leads big scoring drive

November, 29, 2009
BALTIMORE -- Dennis Dixon is showing the rest of the league what he's made of.

The second-year quarterback made the biggest play of his career with a 24-yard quarterback scramble to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 17-14 lead over the Baltimore Ravens. It's the first lead of the game for Pittsburgh and puts a lot of pressure on Baltimore at home. The Steelers drove 54 yards during the scoring drive.

Dixon's speed was apparent as he turned the corner and easily sprinted by defenders. He hasn’t scrambled much, but when Dixon has he’s been dangerous. He had a 31-yard scramble taken away in the first half.

Steelers hanging around

November, 29, 2009
BALTIMORE — Many expected a blowout in Baltimore with Ben Roethlisberger on the sidelines. But that hasn’t been the case.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are hanging around in this rivalry game with the Baltimore Ravens, as a field goal from Jeff Reed cut Pittsburgh's deficit to 14-10 in the third quarter.

Baltimore is playing sloppy, giving up a fumble and a quarterback sack to end its first two drives of the second half. Ravens starting quarterback Joe Flacco was limping after getting sacked by Steelers defensive end Travis Kirschke but returned to the game.

The Ravens are trying to end a three-game losing streak against Pittsburgh.

Steelers-Ravens halftime notes

November, 29, 2009
BALTIMORE—The Baltimore Ravens lead the Pittsburgh Steelers, 14-7, at intermission.

Here are some halftime observations:
  • This is the most trash talking that I’ve seen between two teams all season. When someone makes a key play, that player often wants to let the other team know about it. Among the biggest culprits for trash talking so far have been Steelers safety Tyrone Carter, Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward, and Ravens tailback Ray Rice.
  • At times this has been an old-fashioned battle of attrition to see which team will give up the most ground. Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall (10 carries, 42 yards) and Rice (six carries, 34 yards) for the Ravens are running well in the first half. Both are hitting the seams quickly and aren’t afraid to get the tough yards.
  • I’ve been impressed so far with Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, who is making good on most of his throws. Dixon has thrown for 87 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Most importantly, Dixon doesn’t look overwhelmed by the situation, which will be key for the Steelers to have a chance in the second half.
  • Ravens receiver Derrick Mason caught the go-ahead touchdown in the second quarter over Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. It was Mason's first touchdown against Pittsburgh in 21 career games.

Early impressions of Steelers' Dixon

November, 29, 2009
BALTIMORE -- The Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are currently tied 7-7.

Here are some early impressions of Pittsburgh quarterback Dennis Dixon.

  • The Steelers used safe play calling with Dixon early. His first throw was a screen that was incomplete and his second and third throws were quick snap-and-fires to receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. Dixon didn’t throw downfield once until he warmed up in the second quarter. He later hit Holmes for a 33-yard touchdown pass.
  • Dixon had a nice scramble for 31 yards in the first quarter that displayed his speed. But it was called back for holding. The play didn't count, but at least it showed what Dixon is capable of with his legs.
  • Dixon has been remarkably accurate so far. He completed 4 of his first 5 passes for 66 yards, and his only incompletion was a screen that was batted down. Dixon doesn't look too shaken by the situation to this point.
BALTIMORE — Ravens rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb played with the first-team defense Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The game marked Webb's first career start, and was a move that was expected all week. Ravens former starting cornerback Fabian Washington recently suffered a knee injury and is out for the season.

Webb, a third-round pick, has gradually earned more playing time during the year as a defensive back and kick returner. Expect Pittsburgh’s veteran receivers Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes to test the rookie tonight.

Steelers-Ravens inactives

November, 29, 2009
BALTIMORE -- Here are the players you won’t see in Sunday night's game between the Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) and Baltimore Ravens (5-5):


QB Ben Roethlisberger

S Troy Polamalu

OG Chris Kemoeatu

CB Keenan Lewis

OT Tony Hills

DE Sunny Harris

DE Nick Eason

QB Charlie Batch


QB John Beck

OT Tony Moll

OT Oniel Cousins

FB Charles Ali

CB Cary Williams

LB Antwan Barnes

LB Terrell Suggs

NT Kelly Talavou