BALTIMORE — Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco’s extended run of success was halted by the Pittsburgh Steelers as he struggled against the NFL’s top-ranked defense, turning in the worst game of his young career.
After winning seven of his previous eight games and tossing 12 touchdown passes with a 95.6 quarterback rating during that span, Flacco took a step backward against the capitalistic Steelers.
In a 13-9 loss Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium that granted the Steelers the AFC North division title, Flacco completed just 11 of 28 passes for 115 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns for a paltry 22.2 passer rating. He posted career lows for completion percentage (39.3 percent) as well as passing yards and passer rating.
"They’re the No. 1 defense in the league statistically, and I think they’re confident in what they’re doing," Flacco said. "So, they just came after us the way we planned for them. They did a good job and we would like to do a better job."
Flacco completed no passes in the first quarter and had just six completions in 15 attempts for 68 yards in the first half.
Running a conservative, ball-control offense, he was sacked twice. A fourth-quarter sack by linebacker Lawrence Timmons as he burst past running back Willis McGahee to force a fumble that McGahee recovered put the Ravens out of field goal range.
"I was sliding to my left and wanted to get rid of the ball," Flacco said. "That’s what you’ve got to do in that situation, get rid of the ball so you give yourself a chance to get the field goal."
Flacco’s longest completion was a 24-yard strike over the middle to tight end Todd Heap, but there was no evidence of the long-distance success the Ravens had experienced over the past two months.
"We’ll be fine," Flacco said. "It was a tough game. That’s what games are going to be in December in the NFL. Believe me, we learn something from every game. We’re going to go back and look at the film and take something from this game also."
Plus, the Ravens went 0-for-3 in the red zone as Matt Stover kicked three field goals for all of their points.
"We just didn’t get in," said wide receiver Mark Clayton, who led Baltimore with three catches for 38 yards. "We didn’t execute like we know how to."
TRAINING ROOM: Cornerback Fabian Washington left the game in the second half with a hamstring injury, and Ben Roethlisberger exploited the Ravens’ secondary when he was out.
"It’s sore right now," Washington said. "It just got tighter. If I don’t have my hamstrings, that’s my whole game: speed. And I felt like I’d be hurting more than helping."
It wasn’t immediately clear if Washington, who was limping after the game, would be available to play Saturday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
"I hope so," he said, "but it’s too early to tell."
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson injured his calf, but it isn’t believed to be serious.
Defensive end Trevor Pryce sprained his ankle, but returned to play and wasn’t listed on the post-game injury report.
SPECIAL EFFORT: In a losing cause, strong safety Jim Leonhard revitalized the Ravens’ dormant return game.
He caught a hopping Mitch Berger punt and returned it 46 yards up the sideline to set up a Matt Stover field goal.
Leonhard averaged 18 yards on five punt returns, allowing return specialist Yamon Figurs to concentrate on returning kickoffs with a 39-yard return and a 26.0 average.
"The guys have been blocking great, and we finally got some returnable balls," Leonhard said. "We were trying to help our offense because we knew it would be a defensive struggle. A lot of individual efforts kind of get wasted in a loss."
SHUT DOWN: While fullback Le’Ron McClain gained 87 yards on 23 carries in his second start, McGahee’s struggles continued.
He gained just 18 yards on six carries, dropped a couple of passes and missed a block that led to Flacco’s costly fumble.
"We had a chance to put them away, but we just didn’t finish," McGahee said. "We had a lot of chances. For the most part, the Steelers did what they had to do to win the game."
McClain’s yardage total is the second-most Pittsburgh has given up in a game this season. He has rushed for 323 yards in the past four games to average 80.6 yards during that stretch and leads Baltimore with 693 rushing yards for the season.
Still, he isn’t satisfied.
"We left some plays out there," he said. "We didn’t do what we needed to do. We need to work on finishing. It’s a tough game and we fought hard and came up short."
QUICK HITS: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis recorded seven tackles, a sack and a quarterback hit. … Clayton moved into fourth place on the Ravens’ all-time receiving chart with 192 career receptions as he passed Qadry Ismail (191 catches). … The crowd of 71,502 is the largest in Baltimore football history. … Free safety Ed Reed recorded his fifth career sack, his first since the 2004 season against the Philadelphia Eagles. Reed tied linebacker Bart Scott to lead Baltimore with eight tackles and recovered a fumble. … Punter Sam Koch averaged 41.7 yards, tying a career-high by placing four punts inside the 20-yard line at the Steelers’ 7, 4, 1 and 8-yard lines. … The Ravens rushed for 112 yards against the Steelers’ top-ranked run defense, which entered the game allowing just 73 yards per game on the ground. … The Ravens deactivated Todd Bouman as the third quarterback as well as running backs Ray Rice (shin contusion) and Jalen Parmale, offensive linemen Oniel Cousins and David Hale, wide receivers Marcus Maxwell (hip) and Terrance Copper and cornerback Evan Oglesby. … The Steelers deactivated third quarterback Dennis Dixon, cornerback Fernando Bryant, linebacker Bruce Davis, offensive tackles Marvel Smith (back) and Tony Hills and defensive linemen Orpheus Roye, Brett Keisel and Scott Paxson.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.