"If you're a champion, you have to have it in your heart" - Chris Everet
Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing - Abraham Lincoln.
A team's true character is not found in the accolades of others, or in its own media guide. A team's true character is not based on how well it wins, or how often or where, but rather in how it overcomes its own mistakes as well as the vagaries of fortune, and rises up to meet the challenge before it.
The heart of a champion is not decided by statistics, nor can it merely be proclaimed or fervently wished for; it must be earned, not presumed.
Charlie Batch showed the entire nation tonight which quarterback had the most heart, and the Pittsburgh Steelers showed the NFL and the self-proclaimed leader of the AFC North that rumors of the Steelers' demise are very much premature.
In a game where the Baltimore Ravens, the national media, Las Vegas and even many in Steeler Nation gave the men from Pittsburgh little or no chance to win without its franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers defense once again showed the NFL why it is the No. 1 rated defense, holding Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to a 47 percent completion ratio and a quarterback rating of 61.9 with just 16 completions out of 34 attempts for 188 yards, one touchdown and one interception. This after the Ravens had strung together a 15 game winning streak at home, up until this game. Flacco has played far better at home than on the road, completing 66.5 percent of his passes and earning a quarterback rating of 108.3
Charlie Batch didn't play a perfect game, waiting too long to dump the ball several times and taking unnecessary sacks, but he outplayed Flacco by completing 67 percent of his passes for 276 yards, one touchdown and an interception, earning a quarterback rating of 76.
The Steelers offensive line, showing yet another injury forced configuration with Maurkice Pouncey playing left guard in place of Willie Colon, Doug Legursky at center, and rookie Kevin Beachum at right tackle, didn't play a perfect game, allowing Batch to be sacked twice, and failing to be consistent in creating room for the backs to run, but they played with heart throughout the game, and succeeded when it mattered most.
The Steelers only rushed for 96 yards (averaging 3.7 yards per carry), but the Steelers O-line and running backs kept pounding away at the Ravens defense, holding onto the ball and taking time off the clock. The Steelers won time of possession 34:21 to 25:39, and in the crucial fourth quarter, the Steelers offensive line demoralized the Ravens defense by possessing the ball for 12:14 as compared to the Ravens 2:46 and scoring ten unanswered points.
They say the games are won or lost by the players; this was proven tonight as the Steelers won despite Haley having Batch throw deep numerous times on third and short plays, and in particular by not allowing a trick play called by Haley demoralize them, or allow the Ravens to feed off of the momentum such a poorly chosen play gave them. In the second quarter Haley had Steelers' wide receiver Antonio Brown faking a sweep and attempting a pass to RB Jonathan Dwyer streaking down the right sideline, but he ended up throwing an interception to Ravens LCB Corey Graham, just minutes after Steelers FS Ryan Clark had intercepted a Flacco pass intended for TE Dennis Pitta.
Although the Ravens interception led to a touchdown, making the score 13-3 in favor of Baltimore, the Steelers didn't panic nor fully abandon their methodical approach, which allowed them to end the first half with a Suisham 41 yard field goal, making the score 13-6.
Numerous times throughout the first three quarters the Steelers would start to put together drives using short passes and relentlessly running the ball into the heart of the Ravens' defense, only to have Haley abandon such for longer pass plays. Even early in the fourth quarter, with the score 20-13 in favor of the Ravens and the Steelers first-and-ten at the Ravens' 20, Haley had Batch attempt a 20 yard pass to Steelers TE Heath Miller in the end zone that was intercepted by Ravens S Ed Reed.
Despite the Steelers' offense allowing Reed to return the ball from the end zone to the Ravens' 27 yard line, the Steelers' defense once again rose to the occasion. Three plays later at the Ravens 32 yard line, Steelers' OLB James Harrison sacked Flacco for a five yard loss and in the process stripped the ball with DE Evander Hood recovering it, leading ultimately to Batch's sole passing touchdown, a seven yarder to Miller tying the game at 20-20. The Steelers' defense would allow the Ravens to possess the ball only two and half minutes more the entire final quarter.
While Batch showed which quarterback had more heart, Steelers K Shaun Suisham demonstrated his growth and maturity into an unflappable and consistent weapon. He kept the Steelers in the game, with field goals of 46 and 41 yards in the first and second quarter, respectively, and the game winning 42 yard field goal with just two seconds left in the game.
The heart and character of a team is tested when against all odds it finds itself with an opportunity to succeed and despite all predictions to the contrary it overcomes a hostile environment, the desperation-fueled efforts of a worthy but presumptuous opponent, and the all too common human frailty of allowing the fear of failure become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The winner this night refused to acknowledge the Ravens' claim to the AFC North divisional crown; they refused to believe that their identity as a champion begins and ends with Ben Roethlisberger. Instead they rallied behind their third string quarter back to declare to the Ravens and the entire NFL that there is price to pay for misjudging the heart and character of the Pittsburgh Steelers.