Former Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata retired this week, and did so as a member of the team he began his career with.
During his retirement press-conference, Ngata cited as his career highlight the time he “accidentally” broke Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s nose during a late-season game way back in 2010.
In fairness to Ngata, I probably shouldn’t have implied that he broke Roethlisberger’s nose on purpose while smacking it with his huge mitt during a sack, but it sure was a crime he wasn't called for a penalty on the play.
Given the nature and history of the Steelers/Ravens rivalry, it’s perhaps no surprise that Ngata would cite breaking the nose of the best quarterback in the AFC North over the past 15 years as his favorite memory. This is what rivalries are all about. Besides, if Ngata made a few thousand Steelers fans irate with his retirement speech, all the better.
But you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t look back at the night of December 5, 2010 with much disdain. You see, it was a fantastic game—one of several between the two franchises over the past decade-plus—and one that was vital to AFC North supremacy, as per usual.
The stuff with Roethlisberger suffering physical damage on a play in-which the perpetrator wasn’t penalized? By that point in No. 7’s career, I think he and every Steeler fan were pretty much used to it.
“Why didn’t you call that, you always throw flags when stuff happens to Tom Brady,” asked the fan.
“Yeah, but it’s Tom Brady,” said the official. “He tells us when to throw a flag. Besides, Big Ben is just so big—it’s right there in his name.”
“Yeah, but Peyton Manning is big, and he gets calls.”
“Yeah, but he’s Peyton Manning. Besides, his commercials slay me.”
Anyway, after coming back from his four-game suspension to start the season due to conduct detrimental the the league, it appeared that Roethlisberger’s punishment continued during games, as he seemed to take extra shot after extra shot without receiving his fair share of calls from the officials.
To his credit, Roethlisberger took his beatings and just kept quiet.
As for the Ravens, despite their usual scoring habits that mostly involved field goals, safeties and the occasional punt return, many people were high on them in 2010, especially with Roethlisberger set to miss the first month of the season.
And to their credit, the Ravens came into Heinz Field in Week 4 against a 3-0 Pittsburgh team led by Charlie Batch and eked out a last-second victory. This loss wasn’t exactly crippling to the Steelers playoff chances the rest of the season, but with both teams coming into the December 5 rematch at M&T Bank Stadium with identical 8-3 records, it essentially made it a must-win game for Pittsburgh in-order to keep an AFC North title (and a bye) a realistic goal.
Unfortunately, the rematch was on Sunday Night Football, which meant Baltimore was extra fired up.
I won’t go into heavy detail about this game, but let’s just say the Ravens took it to Pittsburgh for the better part of 60 minutes. Following their usual script, they entered the fourth quarter with a 10-3 lead and needed basically one more score or stop on defense to seal the deal.
By this point in the game, Roethlisberger had already suffered his broken nose at the hands of Ngata, an injury that was quite visible for all the world to see as the big, giant quarterback was being examined on the bench.
After a field goal by new-comer Shaun Suisham cut the deficit to four, the Ravens had the football at their own 43 with just 3:22 left in the game. Another first down or two, and Pittsburgh’s AFC North prospects would officially have to go on life-support (remember, head-to-head is the first divisional tiebreaker, so even though the Steelers would have been just a game behind in the standings, they would have really been two...and with just four weeks remaining).
But like he usually did in those days—particularly against the Ravens—legendary safety Troy Polamalu came through when it mattered, timing a second-down blitz just right and stripping Joe Flacco of the football just as he was about to pass it. LaMarr Woodley scooped up the fumble and kind of scampered 19 yards to the Baltimore nine-yard line.
Three plays later, Roethlisberger found former fan-favorite running back Isaac Redman, who was split out wide to the left, on a short pass, and to his credit, Redman ran through several Ravens defenders on the way to the end zone to give the Steelers a 13-10 lead with 2:58 remaining.
Despite the Ravens’ fondness for field goals, the Steelers prevented them from even attempting one on a last-gasp drive, thus preserving a very critical win. Pittsburgh took a one-game lead into the final month of the season and ultimately hung on to secure an AFC North crown and an all-important bye.
I realize this wasn't even the most important victory over the Ravens that season--that would come weeks later in a divisional round rubber-match at Heinz Field. I also understand Pittsburgh didn't win Super Bowl XLV--it merely just made an appearance.
But I think this little victory late in the 2010 season is a forgotten gem that may not have received the attention it deserved had it not been for Ngata reminding us of it.
Thank you, Haloti Ngata, we (you and Steelers fans) finally agree on something.