Steelers stay focused after beating rivals

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
10:55
PM ET
Troy Polamalu AP Photo/Don WrightThe Steelers played ball-control offense and stingy defense and won their second straight.

PITTSBURGH -- He arrived at Tandon Doss' torso at roughly the same time as a Joe Flacco pass, and the resulting collision left Troy Polamalu noticeably woozy.

Doss hung on to the ball in yet another tighter-than-shrink-wrap game between the Ravens and Steelers at Heinz Field. But Polamalu retained his senses, which seemed like a fair trade even though Flacco was conjuring up more of his late-game magic when the Steelers desperately needed a stop.

Polamalu got up, and the Steelers safety, who is as religious as he is relentless, did the sign of the cross for good measure. Nothing provided a better metaphor for the Steelers after Ben Roethlisberger, not Flacco, led a game-winning drive at Heinz Field.

The Steelers are 2-4 after beating the Ravens 19-16, and they have steadied themselves after a wobbly start that probably had fans seeking divine intervention.

It is not just that the Steelers have won two games in a row for the first time in almost a year. It is how they prevailed that leads you to think they can continue to pull their season back from the brink, especially with a winnable game at Oakland next on the schedule.

Forget for a second that the Steelers unveiled a Wildcat package that surprised the Ravens as much as it did the fans who crammed into Heinz Field for the renewal of one of the NFL’s most contentious rivalries.

Or that the Steelers’ only touchdown came on a shovel pass from Roethlisberger to tight end Heath Miller.

In the end, there was nothing gimmicky about the Steelers’ first regular-season win over the Ravens in Pittsburgh since 2009.

The Steelers were the more physical team, and their oft-maligned offensive line got enough push and provided enough openings for the Steelers to rumble for 141 yards and average just under 5 yards per carry.

The defense, meanwhile, extended its streak of not allowing a touchdown to eight quarters before Flacco masterfully led a late scoring drive that culminated in a 1-yard scoring pass to tight end Dallas Clark.

It also snuffed out the Ravens’ running game -- Ray Rice averaged just 3 yards per carry while rushing for 45 yards -- and the Steelers didn’t allow big plays save for one.

Torrey Smith caught a 41-yard pass on a perfectly thrown ball from Flacco late in the third quarter, but the Steelers limited the damage to three points.

And that was no small consideration since the Steelers and Ravens played a sixth consecutive regular-season game in Pittsburgh that was decided by three points.

Miller said after the Steelers beat the Jets last Sunday that it felt right in the locker room. The victory over the Ravens looked right even if it wasn’t always pretty.

It looked like Steelers football, not the hideous mutation that resulted in the team’s first 0-4 start since 1968.

And who knows how far stingy defense and a ball-control offense can take the Steelers as they try to fight their way back in a very mediocre conference.

“Although our team has changed from year to year that’s been our formula,” Polamalu said.

When asked what the Steelers have to do to stay on a winning track, Polamalu said, “Not pat ourselves on the back and continue to grind.”

[+] EnlargePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarFor the 28th time in his career, Ben Roethlisberger led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
That seemed to be one of the dominant themes in a happy but hardly overjoyed postgame locker room.

And rightfully so.

The Steelers still need a telescope to see the top of the AFC, and the victory over the Ravens came against a reeling champion that has declared a state of emergency, according to outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

The win also came in spite of the Steelers themselves, who controlled the game but still needed Roethlisberger to bring them back from a fourth-quarter deficit or tie for the 28th time in his career.

The Steelers had to settle for too many Shaun Suisham field goals. They lost a fumble that prevented them from taking a double-digit lead into halftime and they didn’t force any turnovers.

Not that style points mattered considering the stakes involved for the Steelers.

“We were playing for our season,” outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “When we started the season 0-4 a lot of people counted us out and we’ve still got an opportunity to turn this thing around. It’s supposed to have been like this all year and we’ve just got to continue to play like this.”

The biggest indication that the Steelers have restored some normalcy came after Emmanuel Sanders' kickoff return late in the fourth quarter was brought back to Pittsburgh’s 34-yard line following a ruling that he had stepped out of bounds on the way to the end zone.

The Steelers still had almost two minutes to break a 16-16 tie and a quarterback with a long list of clutch scoring drives to his credit.

But the late-game heroics that had become so associated with Roethlisberger also became few and far between as the Steelers slipped to mediocrity last season. That could have been weighing on the minds of the players in their huddle before the final drive of the game.

It apparently wasn't.

“No one had any negative thoughts,” Sanders said. “We just had the feeling we were going to go win it.”

Roethlisberger did just that, completing three passes and drawing an illegal contact penalty that gave the Steelers their initial first down on the final drive.

He and the offense set up Suisham, whose right leg did the rest.

“We need to have all the confidence in the world that we are going to go down and win this game,” Roethlisberger said of the Steelers' mindset. “I think it is big when everybody buys into what you are doing and we did a good job of that.”

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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