This week, the time circuits on my BTSC Delorean are set to a time when Beverly Hills Chihuahua topped the box office, as confused movie-goers looked for Eddie Murphy and not a dog in a sombrero. Pink’s “So What?” was big on the radio and the Dow slumped 777 points in what was the biggest single-day drop ever. Welcome to September 29, 2008.
The Steelers were hosting the Ravens on Monday Night Football to complete Week 4. The Ravens were 2-0 and storming into Heinz Field with a new coach (John Harbaugh) and Joe Flacco at the helm. Rex Ryan’s defense wasn’t ranked as high as usual, but Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Bart Scott and Haloti Ngata were a dangerous bunch. How criminally dangerous we didn’t know until later on MNF.
The Steelers were 2-1, but had just gotten embarrassed a week before in Philadelphia. Roethlisberger looked pedestrian and was injured, the Offensive Line was the wrong kind of “offensive” and the defense wasn’t sharp either. A win was imperative to get the team back on track, especially when a bitter rival was visiting.
The hard-hitting rivalry remained just that, as Andre Frazier was hurt on the opening kickoff and had to be stretchered off. It was a precursor of the brutality that was to come.
The Steelers’ defense was without Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel against a run-first team. But the defense shut down Willis McGahee and LeRon McClain on the first few drives.
The Steelers’ first drive featured Ben Roethlisberger completions to Nate Washington, Heath Miller and Santonio Holmes, as well as nice runs by Rashard Mendenhall. But Corey Ivy sacked Ben on third down and Pittsburgh had to settle for a Jeff Reed 49-yarder with 6:44 to go in the first quarter.
On 3rd-and-long during the next drive, LT Adam Terry saw James Harrison blow by him and plant Flacco into the turf to force a punt. After the punt, Roethlisberger looked to go deep but threw a five-foot pass right into the gut of Ngata for the INT. That led to a Matt Stover 33-yard boot to tie the game with only :22 left in the quarter.
After stopping the Steelers, Flacco and his backfield drove down the field aided by runs and passes to McClain and McGahee. The drive halted on the Steelers’ three and Stover converted a chip-shot for a 6-3 lead.
With less then four minutes in the half, the boo-birds came out at Heinz Field as Roethlisberger was sacked twice. To make things worse, Kendall Simmons had to be helped off of the field after the second sack and third of the game. The Steelers’ offense was in the midst of an 8-quarter TD drought and the OL’s poor, 8-sack performance against Philadelphia the week before looked less like an anomaly and more like a persistent problem.
Aided by good field position, Flacco again looked like an accomplished veteran as he led his team into scoring territory. A few plays after McClain rumbled a screen pass 28-yards and the Steelers’ D took undisciplined penalties, No. 5 threw his first NFL TD pass. The 8-yard score to TE Daniel Wilcox made the score 13-3, as a stunned home crowd sat through halftime in disbelief.
The second half didn’t start any better, as Rashad Mendenhall got absolutely walloped by Ray Lewis and walked off with his shoulder hanging low. The Steelers had to punt yet again.
This play was quite significant as it launched the rivalry into an even nastier stratosphere. Instead of calling for help, Lewis boasted, “You’re done,” to the fallen first-rounder. Suggs later bragged on radio that a bounty was out on Mendenhall and Hines Ward.
“The bounty was out on him and the bounty was out on (Ward). We just didn’t get him between the whistles.” said Suggs on ESPN’s Mike and Mike. Admitting to a major breach of football law and the Ravens were still never punished. Wow!
With Mendy starting in place of an injured Willie Parker, out of the game and for the season, Bruce Arians’ offense had to turn to FB Carey Davis and their 3rd-down back, Mewelde Moore. Still, they couldn’t get anything going.
Fortunes finally shifted towards the end of the third quarter. Jarrett Johnson, who never was penalized for 15 yards in his entire career of six years, got nailed for hitting Hines Ward out of bounds. Ward was instigating, as he did so well. With 4:12 left in the third, Roethlisberger found Santonio Holmes across the middle and he sprinted all the way into the end zone for a 38-yard score.
Defense prevailed once again on the very next play after the kickoff. James Harrison burst through Terry and pummeled Joe Flacco. The ball spurted from the rookie’s grasp and LaMarr Woodley hustled to fall on the ball. But realizing that he was in the clear, he rolled over and sprang to his feet to dash to glory. No. 56 leapt into the stands and celebrated with a throng of fans. Just like that, the Steelers were up 17-13 and the Heinz Field crowd became its boisterous self again.
With 12:30 left in the game, the Steelers tried to put the nail in Baltimore’s coffin. Roethlisberger ducked Bart Scott on a blitz and found a wide-open Hines Ward who rumbled all the way down to the Raven 10-yard line for 49 yards on the play. However, the Steelers had to settle for a Jeff Reed field goal from 18 yards when the drive stalled at the one. The score was 20-13 in favor of the home team.
Harrison and Woodley continued to run wild with an elapsing clock in the fourth quarter, however Flacco completed a 35-yard pass to Mason from the Steelers 40. With 2nd and goal to go, McClain’s dominance continued when he ran over Lawrence Timmons for a 5-yard touchdown. With 4:02 left on the clock, it was a 20-20 tie.
Carey Davis exited with a bad left ankle, so Mewelde Moore was the only back available for Pittsburgh. The Steelers couldn’t get in Reed’s range, so they punted. The Ravens surrendered their final time out when McClain got hurt and limped off with less than a minute to go. Baltimore opted to take a knee and try their luck in overtime.
The Ravens won the coin toss and Ray Lewis, like he did everything, vociferously yelled, “We wanna receive! We wanna receive! We wanna receive! We wanna receive!”, which they did. With an accurate kicker in Stover and sudden-death rules, nerves were tight in the Steel City. But Yamon Figurs great return past the 50 was negated by four flags and the drive began at the Baltimore 15. Great coverage by Bryant McFadden on Mason and a third down sack by Timmons of Flacco, gave the Steelers a shot at the win. Ben went deep to Santonio, but it fell incomplete. On third down, Moore took a short pass and rambled for 24 and the Steelers were in range for Reed. A few plays later, No. 3 came in and nailed a 46-yarder for the OT win. There was much rejoicing as the Steelers vanquished their rival for the first of three times in that magical season.
As for me, I was quietly trying to watch the game on the bedroom floor as my 13-month-old and my pregnant wife were deep in slumber. But I couldn’t control myself when Woodley scored in the third and screamed in complete joy. The child cried, my wife yelled and I apologized as I fibbed about stubbing a toe. She went back to bed as I worked to get my son back to sleep, which was a chore back then. Now in a rocker, I whispered to my son the significance of the game as I rocked him back to dreamland. It was our first bonding moment with the Steelers. It just felt right and I felt like the king of the world.