M&T Bank Stadium was certainly a land of confusion Sunday evening for the Steelers as they tried to hand Baltimore its first home loss since December of 2010. Instead of that, Pittsburgh spent three-plus quarters trying to hand the Ravens the game with crucial turnovers at key moments that killed drives and momentum.
The first such miscue occurred in the second quarter. After taking an early 3-0 lead behind back up quarterback Charlie Batch, the Steelers were trailing, 6-3, when Ryan Clark came up with a rare Pittsburgh interception of Joe Flacco near mid-field.
On second and 12, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley tried to jump-start his struggling unit with a gadget play. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, returning after missing several weeks with a high ankle sprain, tried to hit running back Jonathan Dwyer with an option pass. Unfortunately, the pass was intercepted by Baltimore's Corey Graham.
Unlike Pittsburgh, the Ravens' offense took advantage of their turnover fortune and turned it into seven points when Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for a 28 yard touchdown pass to give Baltimore a 13-3 lead.
Later in the second quarter, with less than a minute remaining before halftime, Pittsburgh called a pass play that totally confused the Ravens' defense, and Mike Wallace was left wide-open in the back of the end zone. A touchdown there would have pulled the Steelers within three. Instead, Batch badly overthrew Wallace, and Pittsburgh had to settle for a Shaun Suisham 41 yard field goal and trailed, 13-6.
The Steelers offense took the football in the third quarter and seized all the momentum with a seven play, 78 yard drive that culminated in a Dwyer 16 yard touchdown run to tie the score at 13.
After Baltimore quickly punted the ball back to the Steelers after a drive that netted a minus-three yards, Pittsburgh looked like it would seize total control of the game when Batch hit a wide open Emmanuel Sanders with a pass right down the middle of the field on third and 11. Sanders looked to be in the clear for at least a huge gain when he fumbled while simply trying to change the football from one hand to another. Ed Reed recovered for Baltimore, and the Ravens took advantage again when Ray Rice ran 34 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 lead.
In the fourth quarter, the Steelers were moving the football again and had it at Baltimore's 20 yard line when Batch tried to hit Heath Miller in the back of the end zone. Reed was there once more and intercepted the pass and advanced it to the Ravens' 29 yard line.
At this point, Pittsburgh looked to be in serious jeopardy of losing a game it probably should have been winning easily.
As I said earlier, the last time Baltimore lost a game at home was two Decembers ago, thanks to a Troy Polamalu strip sack of Flacco late in the final period and a Herculean effort by Isaac Redman on a third down pass to give the Steelers a crucial victory that paved the way for an AFC North title and a first round bye in the playoffs that Pittsburgh rode to an appearance in Super Bowl XLV.
Someone desperately needed to step up and make a play. To outplay their heated division rivals on the road without Ben Roethlisberger and still come up short because of so many crucial mistakes could have demoralized the Steelers once and for all.
Would Clark come up with another key turnover? Or would Polamalu step up and be the hero again after returning to the lineup for the first time since October?
No on both accounts.
Fortunately, Pittsburgh has another long-time defensive hero who has made his own share of splash plays over the years...........James Harrison.
To say Harrison was struggling to regain his form after returning to the lineup in Week 5 following off-season knee surgery would be a huge understatement. However, you could see him slowly returning to form in recent weeks as he recorded a sack in each of the past two games.
Sunday evening, when the Steelers needed it most, Harrison finally looked like the No. 92 of old, the superhero that pulverized Baltimore on a Monday night many years ago; the Defensive Player of the Year who ran coast-to-coast with an interception in Super Bowl XLIII.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Baltimore was facing a third and five. Just like two seasons ago, Flacco stepped back to pass and was sacked and stripped of the football, this time by Harrison. Ziggy Hood recovered at Baltimore's 27, and the Steelers were in business yet again.
Pittsburgh finally took advantage of a own turnover this time when Batch hit Miller with a seven yard touchdown pass to tie the score at 20 midway through the fourth quarter.
Thanks to another stellar series by the Steelers defense, the offense quickly got the football back, marched 61 yards down field and won the game on a 42 yard field goal by Suisham as time expired.
In my opinion it was the most rewarding regular season win for the Steelers since that crucial victory in Baltimore two seasons ago, and Harrison's strip sack of Flacco was the biggest regular season defensive play since that day.
Not only did Harrison return to his old form against the Ravens Sunday evening, he picked just the right time to place that huge S back on his chest and perhaps save the entire season.