Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders dropped a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass with about a minute left, handing the Baltimore Ravens a narrow 22-20 victory on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Steelers, who trailed all night at a jammed M&T Bank Stadium, cut the Ravens’ lead to two points with a fourth-down scoring toss from Ben Roethlisberger to Jerricho Cotchery with 1:03 remaining. Roethlisberger put his conversion pass on the money to Sanders in the left corner of the end zone, but Sanders couldn’t hold it as he fell to the ground.
The wrenching defeat ended the Steelers’ three-game win streak and dropped them to 5-7, while the Ravens improved to 6-6 and leaped into position for the AFC’s second wild-card spot. With four games left to play, Pittsburgh will likely have to win all of them to have a shot at a playoff berth.
Roethlisberger completed 28 of 44 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, another solid performance from the reigning AFC offensive player of the month. Rookie running back Le’Veon Bell turned in his best NFL game, accumulating 136 yards and a touchdown on 23 touches; however, he left the game after a scary helmet-to-helmet tackle rendered him temporarily unconscious two plays before Cotchery’s touchdown.
The Ravens’ win ensured a season-series split between the two AFC North rivals, as the Steelers won the opening leg in Pittsburgh in Week 7. Baltimore receiver Torrey Smith made six catches for a game-high 93 yards, serving as the primary target for quarterback Joe Flacco (24 of 35, 251 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions).
Roethlisberger also was interception-free, completing eight throws to tight end Heath Miller for 86 yards and seven to Bell for 63. Antonio Brown nabbed five catches for 59 yards, but he was largely contained by the Baltimore defense.
Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds continued his recent strong play, leading the club with 10 tackles and two sacks. Lawrence Timmons, who is still playing with a cast on his wrist, made eight tackles, five of them solo.
But Baltimore constructed six scoring drives on the evening, five of which ended in field goals from Justin Tucker. On the other side of the field, Pittsburgh was forced to punt four times and couldn’t get any offensive continuity going until the second half.
The Ravens took the lead right from the start, igniting a loud crowd in front of a national television audience. After limiting the Steelers to a three-and-out to begin the game, Baltimore drove 71 yards in eight plays to jump on top 7-0. Smith pulled in a 7-yard touchdown pass from Flacco on third-and-goal, but it was a 54-yard bomb to Smith that got the Ravens inside the Pittsburgh 5.
The Steelers put together drives of 11 and 12 plays in the first half, although neither produced any points. Pittsburgh was forced into a punt at the Baltimore 37 on the first long possession and attempted a 49-yard field goal that failed when kicker Shaun Suisham bizarrely mistimed the snap count.
Baltimore added a 43-yard field goal from Tucker before halftime, boosting its lead to 10-0. Tucker booted a 34-yarder to cap a methodical 13-play drive to start the second half, putting the Steelers in full urgency mode on offense.
They responded by pushing the ball 80 yards in less than three minutes, powered by Bell’s 43-yard sprint down the left sideline that set up first-and-goal. Three plays later, on third down at the Baltimore 8, Roethlisberger rolled right and threw left to a wide-open Sanders in the end zone.
But the Ravens continued to keep the Steelers at arm’s length, getting fourth-quarter field goals of 45 and 48 yards from Tucker to counter Pittsburgh’s second consecutive touchdown. Bell walked into the end zone from close range to pay off Roethlisberger’s five completions on the drive, making it 19-14 before Tucker’s fifth field goal.
The Steelers have the weekend off before hosting the Dolphins on Sunday, Dec. 8 at Heinz Field.
Notes: Thursday marked the Steelers’ seventh all-time game on Thanksgiving, and their first since a 1998 loss in Detroit. Pittsburgh is now 1-6 on the holiday…The last five meetings between the Steelers and Ravens have been decided by three points or fewer…James Ihedigbo paced Baltimore with 10 tackles and two passes defensed.