A Steelers playoff classic occurred yesterday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. Epic is the only way to describe it. The ghosts of the Baltimore Ravens past was all over this HUGE epic win. With shades of Ernie Mills and Chris Fuamata-Maafala the Steelers defeated their hated rival the Baltimore Ravens to advance one game away from their third Super Bowl appearance since 2005.
Make no mistake. This was not an easy game. Epic games never are. And this one will go down in the annals of Steelers lore as one of the most thrilling come from behind playoff victories of all time….after the Immaculate Reception.
Rookie Antonio Brown made a long circus catch along the sideline to within yards of the end zone late in the 4th quarter, directly in the shadow of Ernie “Money” Mill’s huge catch in the 1995 AFC Championship game against the Baltimore Colts and then Rashard Mendenhall brushed off the ghost of Fu in 02 versus Cleveland with a tough hard charging 2 yard TD run late in the 4th quarter as the Steelers surged into a lead they would not relinquish in the 59th minute of 60.
The game started positively enough for Pittsburgh. While the special teams created bad situation after bad situation (including whiffing on the opening kick return) Sean Suisham managed to make the opening tackle. After the defense defended every blade of grass the Steelers offense converted a 2nd and 19 and Mendenhall scored for a 7-0 lead. That’s when the wheels appeared to fall off the Steelers bandwagon to Jerry World. A PI on A Madison (playing for Bryant McFadden who suffered an early injury) and then an unexplainable goof by the entire Steelers offensive unit allowing a live ball to sit on the field while no Steeler fell on it, led to a Baltimore 14-7 lead in the first quarter. Things then got worse.
Steelers that had never been in playoff action seemed stunned. Antonio Brown fielded a couple punts deep in Steeler territory giving Pittsburgh awful field position the entire first half. Ramon Foster while diligently playing several different positions on the Steelers tattered O line which suffered more injuries during the game looked stupid not pouncing on Ben’s fumble. It brought back memories of Barry Foster allowing a kick off to be recovered in San Fran his first year. A Keenan Lewis penalty on a punt added to Steelers field position woes. After a Mendenhall fumble (caused by Steeler Chris Kemoeatu’s loose elbow) and a missed Suisham FG, the Steelers were down 21-7.
Halftime was excruciating. Down 21-7. Ben was being hit unmercifully by a crushing Baltimore defense playing havoc with a banged up Steelers O line. If he were Brady he would have surely drawn at least one low blow penalty on the Ravens plus he probably would have had his fumble back like Brady’s “tuck rule” play in Oakland in 02. But the Steelers stuck together.
One bad half does not a game make and the Steelers needed a great half. They got it. In the second half, every Steelers player contributed winning ingredients. Ryan Clark set the tone forcing a fumble and then getting an INT leading to 14 points and a tie game. On the biggest play of the year, a 3rd down with the Steelers down 21-14 Ben threw to Hines (who else?) for a TD and the comeback was on. James Harrison had 3 sacks and chased Joe Flacco all over the field. On one series Flacco sacked himself running out of bounds to avoid being hit by Deebo again. The front 3 was immovable. Ziggy Hood with a ferocious sack is starting to pay 1st round dividends. Brett Keisel was his stalwart all pro self recovering a fumble. The Big Snack ate up blockers and ball carriers. William Gay made a play. Taylor, Woodley and Farrior made plays. The defense was championship caliber. But the Steelers still needed offense.
The Raven defense did it’s typical best stopping the Steelers run. Ward had been shut out in the first half except for a 15 yard roughing penalty when 4 Ravens attacked him. Wallace too was being bottled up. But the Steelers are more than a one trick pony. Rookie WRs Emanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown picked up the pace and earned their Steelers stripes. Big John Wayne at QB led the Steelers down the field again after a Steelers owned 3rd quarter.
At 4:14 PM PST Sean Suisham kicked a short FG and the Steelers had their first lead since 7-0 at 24-21. With 8 minutes left again the special teams let the Steelers down. A Keyaron Fox penalty on a punt (how many times have I written that this year?) gave the Ravens a short field. The heroic Steelers defense held and Baltimore tied the score at 24 with under 4 minutes left.
“Winning Time.” Ben then hit Ernie Mills (Antonio Brown) for 50 plus and Fu (Mendenhall) took it to the Promised Land for 6 points and a Steeler epic playoff “W”
It was fitting in the end that TJ Houshmanzadah who stomped on a terrible towel in 2005 and caught the winning TD with 33 seconds left in Pittsburgh earlier in the year would drop a 4th down pass right between the numbers. As Hines Ward said “The Ravens had been asking for us and they got us. My momma always said be careful what you wish for.” Right now I’m wishing for a stairway to seven!