The Baltimore Ravens led 13-3 in the first half and 20-13 after three quarters, but the Pittsburgh Steelers got contributions from both sides of the ball to construct an impressive 23-20 comeback victory Sunday afternoon at M&T Bank Stadium.
Shaun Suisham drilled his third field goal of the game from 42 yards away as time expired to provide the winning points, capping a 13-play drive piloted by third-string quarterback Charlie Batch. The 37-year-old Pittsburgh native improved greatly upon his three-interception performance last week, completing 25 of 36 passes for 276 yards.
Playing for the second straight week in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich, Batch fired a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller with 7:37 left in regulation to pull the Steelers even at 20-all. The tying drive was set up by James Harrison’s strip-sack of Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, which gave Pittsburgh the ball at the Baltimore 27-yard line.
“We were able to do something nobody thought we were going to be able to do,” Batch told NBC Sports following the game. “We didn’t have our best performance last week, but we knew we had to get winning to have a shot at the tournament. We were able to put it together on offense and defense.”
With the win, the Steelers (7-5) stayed tied with Cincinnati for the AFC’s final wild card spot, but they weren’t error free in the victory. Batch threw an end-zone interception to perennial Pro-Bowl safety Ed Reed early in the fourth quarter, which seemingly doomed Pittsburgh to a third consecutive loss.
Wide receiver Antonio Brown also threw a pick in the second quarter on a trick play, and fellow wideout Emmanuel Sanders inexplicably fumbled with only open field ahead of him in the third.
However, due to the late rally, memories of last week’s eight-turnover disaster in Cleveland were neutralized. The Steelers are still two games behind AFC North-leading Baltimore (9-3) with four games left in the regular season, but they avoided falling out of playoff position for the first time since early October.
Speaking of defense, Steelers star strong safety Troy Polamalu played for the first time since Week 5 against Philadelphia, easing his way back from a severe calf injury with part-time duty. Free safety Ryan Clark made an interception and had four tackles, and Harrison (team-leading seven tackles), Larry Foote and Ziggy Hood each sacked Flacco, who was limited to 188 passing yards on 16 completions.
Flacco tossed a 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Anquan Boldin with 3:23 to go before halftime, goosing a sluggish game and giving the Ravens a 13-3 advantage. With Steelers top cornerback Ike Taylor sidelined due to a lower-leg injury, Flacco targeted second-year defensive back Cortez Allen on the scoring play.
One player couldn’t be singled out on Baltimore’s second touchdown, a eye-popping 34-yard cutback touchdown run from Ray Rice that put the Ravens up seven with five minutes left in the third. Rice, who led all rushers with 78 yards on 12 carries, answered the Steelers’ bruising Jonathan Dwyer, who scored on a 16-yard burst on the first drive after halftime to knot the game at 13.
Dwyer (16 carries, 49 yards) was Pittsburgh’s featured running back on the day, but backup Isaac Redman was also effective, picking up 43 on just nine rushes. Miller had a big afternoon, pacing all Steelers receivers with 97 yards on five receptions. Sanders, Brown and Mike Wallace each grabbed five as well, gaining 60, 58 and 44 yards, respectively.
Boldin led Baltimore with 81 receiving yards, augmenting Vonta Leach, who pulled in four balls for 40 yards from the fullback position. Cornerback Corey Graham had 11 tackles and a pass defensed to go with his interception of Brown; safety Bernard Pollard collected eight tackles, one for a loss.
Both kickers went 2 for 2 in the first half, as Suisham connected from 46 yards in the first quarter and 41 just before the half, bookending rookie Justin Tucker’s twin conversions from 45 and 23.
Unlike in the two teams’ previous meeting two weeks ago, special teams had a negligible impact. Baltimore’s Jacobi Jones, whose punt return touchdown provided the winning points in Pittsburgh on Nov. 19, accounted for 74 harmless yards on three kickoff returns.
The Steelers’ Chris Rainey had a 42-yard kickoff return late in the second that led to Suisham’s second field goal. Rainey was often employed as a backfield decoy by offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who used misdirection and nifty play design to open up large holes in the Ravens defense that Batch and the backs exploited.
Pittsburgh was 5 for 13 on third down, with no conversion more significant than Batch’s 15-yard pass to Brown to help the Steelers kickstart their final drive from inside their own 20. Brown played well in his first game back from an ankle sprain that held him out for three weeks.
Roethlisberger’s status is still uncertain for next week, when the Steelers host the Chargers (4-8) at Heinz Field. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday at 1 p.m.