Steeler Nation last night once again directed their prayers, even those from the heathens among us, to Saint Jude Thaddeus in order to defeat the Baltimore Ravens. The Patron Saint of Lost Causes though has a special Steelers section, one that requires the defense to pull the game out of the fire, and in their opponents building. Thus, last night's affair at M &T Bank Stadium joins two similar contests in recent memory:
*The Immaculate Interception Game of 1996 when Kevin Henry's interception and return with a bit over two minutes remaining paved the way for an overtime victory in Foxboro.
*The Kemo/Vinny T Game of 2004 when the Steelers defensive lineman returned a Vinny Testaverde fumble into scoring range with 2+ minutes remaining, as the Steelers came from 10 point down to defeat the Cowboy in a Texas Stadium that had fallen into the hands of the Steeler faithful.
Last night's win certainly had its share of Monday Morning Quarterback moments, none bigger than the decision of Ravens Coach John Harbaurgh to run a play on 4th & 2 from the Steelers 31-yard-line with 37 seconds remaining rather than send out his kicker to attempt a game-tying 49-yarder into the considerable wind. For my money, Harbaugh made the right call, but quarterback Joe Fucco, not always up to the big moments, threw a one-hopper to an open receiver and victory was ours. And what of Baltimore going with a pass on 2nd & 5 from their own 40, up 4 points with less than 4 minutes remaining. They were skewered for this call by ex-Ravens SB-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer, thinking had the Ravens not picked up the first down on the ground, that it would have been a tall order for the Steelers to drive the length of the field for the go-ahead score. However, convert the 2nd down pass and Cam Cameron looks the genius.
But what about some of Mike Tomlin's decisions on this bitter cold night at M & T:
*Punting on 4th & 1 from the Ravens 36 in the first quarter? This one pinned the Ravens back and seemed to work out until they hit a 60+ yarder on 3rd & 18 to set up their only touchdown.
*Going for it on 4th & 2 just past midfield with a little better than 2 minutes to half. This one surprised me, as it seemed inconsistent with Tomlin's initial 4th down call. Fortunately, the Steelers converted. Even though this gamble yielded no points, the Ravens were not set up to extend their lead to two scores had the decision failed
*Kicking a field goal on 4th down inside the Baltimore 2, down 7 points early in the 4th quarter. This was one reminiscent of the infamous Cowher field-goal call down 14 points in the '04 AFCCG, and the initial response from many was one of similar outrage. After all, the Steelers would still need a touchdown, right? Yes, but in this instance the eventual touchdown would put the Steelers ahead rather than forge a tie.
Joe Fucco, the strong-armed Pitt transfer has proven he can beat the Steelers in a bit spot, but also has compiled a troubling list of not taking care of the football with the game on the line. Last night's fumble on the sack & strip bore an eerie resemblance to the Heinz Field Monday Nighter of '08, also returned by Lamar Woodley, that time for a touchdown. His fumble late in the game in the return engagement in Baltimore that season knocked the Ravens out of field goal range late in the game. And then there was Troy's pick-six off of the arm of Fucco in the '08 AFCCG with the Steelers clining to a 2-point lead and 4 minutes to play. Add in the one-hopper at the end, and Fucco wears the goat horns in the Inner Harbor today.
These '10 Pittsburgh Steelers now seem to be on a magical ride. Where last year's debacle of a season was marked by their ceding leads late in contests, the Steelers last 4 road victories have been by margins of 1, 6, 3 & 3 points with the Steelers either coming from behind late, clinging tenaciously to a narrow margin, or pulling a rabbit out of a hat when all seemed lost....and sometimes a combination of these factors, as was the case last night in Baltimore.
As Pittsburghers, we like Baltimore awight. First it was the Pirates paving the way by winning World Series 7th games in both '71 & '79. And now it's the Steelers, first winning on a Sunday night in '01 under similar circumstances as last night. Then there was the win on the referee's reversal that brought the Steelers the AFC Crown and first round bye in '08. And now, add last night's thriller.