The Pittsburgh Steelers played the role of streak buster on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.
Gone is the Ravens 11 game divisional winning streak. Gone is their 15 game home winning streak. Joe Flacco's streak of impressive home performances (4 out of 5 games at home this year with over a 100 QB Rating) is also over. The Ravens 3 game winning streak over the Pittsburgh Steelers, over as well. How were the Steelers able to pull off this major upset and end a ton of streaks in the process? The obvious answers would be because of great performances by players like Charlie Batch, James Harrison, or Keenan Lewis.
However, in my opinion, the game changed on a 42 yard kick return with about 3 minutes left in the half by rookie Chris Rainey. The Ravens had just scored a touchdown on a beautiful throw and catch from Joe Flacco to Anquan Boldin to take a 13-3 lead. The Steelers had not scored since their first drive and with just 3 minutes left in the first half, things were looking bleak. What followed this kick return was a 2:35 second drive that yielded 3 points after Charlie Batch overthrew a wide open Mike Wallace in the endzone. However, this play changed the momentum and coming out of halftime, the Steelers had drives of 78, 20, 37, 60, 27, and 61 yards. They had exactly zero 3 and outs after that return. Had Rainey taken a knee or been tackled at the 20, it is very possible that the Steelers would have played it safe and attempted to run out the clock. However, because they were in scoring range, they opened it up and went for points. This drive at the end of the 1st half allowed them to realize that Heath Miller was open over the middle of the field early and often and gave Charlie Batch the confidence he needed to lead the epic comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens.
Rainey's kick return didn't only motivate the offense. The defense was equally impressive after Rainey's kick return. Before Rainey's kick return, the defense was solid but not spectacular, giving up 207 yards on 37 plays at 13 points. After the kick return, the Steelers gave up 69 yards on 23 plays and 7 points. While Chris Rainey's return might not have seemed like a big deal at the time, judging by the performance on both sides of the ball after this return, it clearly had a large effect on the game. Without Chris Rainey's awesome return, the Steelers may have ran out the clock in the first half and never realized the way to move the ball. So, Mr. Rainey, thank you for that kick return and thank you for changing the momentum of the game.