NFL Playoffs: Pittsburgh Steelers Sent Home By Efficient Ravens In Wild-Card Game


Jan 3, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) throws the ball as Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison (92) defends in the second quarter during the 2014 AFC Wild Card playoff football game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday night marked the Pittsburgh Steelers’ first playoff game in three years – and their first at Heinz Field since the 2011 AFC Championship win over the Jets.

The team’s anticipated return to the NFL postseason didn’t last long, though, as the rival Baltimore Ravens scored 10 points in each of the final three quarters to earn a 30-17 victory in the AFC wild-card round.

Early events were promising for the Steelers, who went 11-5 in the regular season to edge the Ravens for the AFC North division title. Field position was on Pittsburgh’s side, leading to Shaun Suisham‘s 45-yard field goal that provided the only points of the first quarter.

But the Ravens took the lead on Bernard Pierce‘s five-yard touchdown plunge early in the second quarter, tilting the scales permanently in their favor. Baltimore had previously been 0-3 at Pittsburgh in the playoffs, but Saturday’s result looked almost routine.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco completed 18 of 29 passes for 259 yards and two touchdowns, with veteran pro receiver Steve Smith catching five of those balls for 101 yards. Tight end Owen Daniels also had a big night, snagging four passes for 70.

More to the point, the Baltimore defense had an effective night, sacking Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (31 for 45, 334 yards) five times and intercepting him twice. With star Steelers tailback Le’Veon Bell out with a knee injury suffered last week, the Ravens could focus on defending the passing game.

Although all-pro receiver Antonio Brown ended up with nine catches for a game-high 117 yards, he was a non-factor for much of the evening because of constant double-teams by Baltimore. Pittsburgh’s undrafted rookie running back Josh Harris (nine carries, 25 yards) couldn’t provide enough of a ground-based threat to make the Ravens pay for flooding the defensive backfield.

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Still, the Steelers trailed by a single point at halftime and were within four until late in the third, when Flacco connected with Torrey Smith on an extended play for a critical 11-yard touchdown. Trailing 20-9, Pittsburgh converted a fourth-and-short situation in its own territory, but couldn’t advance further.

The Ravens appeared to take a significant step toward victory early in the fourth, when Flacco sneaked up the middle for two yards on fourth and 1 near midfield. However, Justin Forsett fumbled on the next play, as James Harrison forced Daniels into the running back, causing him to drop the ball.

With Ryan Shazier pulling Forsett away from the fumble, Stephon Tuitt recovered it at the Baltimore 45. On the first play of the ensuing Steelers drive, Roethlisberger went deep to Brown down the right side of the field for a 44-yard gain.

After a false start moved the ball back to the 6-yard line, Roethlisberger quickly connected with Martavis Bryant for a touchdown. Although the two-point conversion was missed, the Steelers were back within five points with 11 minutes to play.

Pittsburgh seemingly had Baltimore in a tight spot, but the Ravens added a 52-yard Tucker field goal with 8:47 left to make it 23-15. Flacco’s 23-yard completion to Daniels on third and 13 was a body blow during that drive, as the tight end eluded Steelers safety Mike Mitchell on the key catch and run.

The hole got even deeper for the Steelers when tailback Ben Tate, a free agent signed this week to help cover for Bell’s absence, had a Roethlisberger pass deflect off his hands and into the waiting arms of Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs.

Baltimore made the home team pay for that when Flacco rolled out to the right and hooked up with Crockett Gillmore for a 21-yard touchdown immediately after the interception.

Down 30-15, the Steelers put together a solid desperation drive – including a fourth-down conversion by backup quarterback Bruce Gradkowski when Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game due to a hit to the head.

However, Roethlisberger threw an ugly interception in the end zone on his first play back in action, thereby ending any hope of a comeback, even after Shamarko Thomas blocked a late Ravens punt for a safety.

In what might have been his final NFL game, legendary Steelers safety Troy Polamalu led the team with eight tackles, five solo. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons had seven total takedowns, including two tackles for a loss.


The Ravens advance to face New England next week as the divisional round of the NFL playoffs gets underway.