PITTSBURGH – It resembled an old-fashioned stampede, and the Baltimore Ravens got trampled.
Quarterback Joe Flacco was battered, harassed and practically imbedded in the turf by a ferocious Pittsburgh Steelers pass rush.
The Ravens’ offensive line had zero answers for a formidable front seven as they were dominated by blue-chip outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.
During a 31-24 loss in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday night at Heinz Field, the Ravens surrendered five sacks.
"It’s an elite pass rush," offensive tackle Tony Moll said. "They come off the ball so fast. That’s what makes them really good. There were mistakes up and down the board that we would love to have back."
It was Moll who was dusted by Woodley on a blitz off the right edge.
Harrison did plenty of damage, too. He sacked Flacco three times for 21 yards of losses, recording seven tackles, two quarterback hits and two pass deflections. Harrison consistently beat left offensive tackle Michael Oher.
"Great player, great player," Oher said. "That guy’s almost unstoppable. We got to finish people off and get better as the game goes on."
Woodley finished with three tackles, one sack and a fumble recovery.
"Yeah, we hit Flacco a few times," Woodley said. "We applied a lot of pressure to him, sacked him a few times, got some bad passes. So, it worked out in our favor."
With Flacco under so much duress, the Ravens rarely were able to build any rhythm with their passing game.
Flacco passed for only 125 yards, completing 16 of 30 passes for one touchdown and one interception for a 61.1 passer rating.
"I feel like they played tough the whole game," offensive tackle Marshal Yanda said. "Obviously, frustrated. We couldn’t get it done. It’s tough to go out like that, but it is what it is."
Plus, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk flubbed a snap when he delivered the football too early to Flacco.
Overall, it was a rough night for an offensive line that allowed 40 sacks in the regular season and nine sacks in two playoff games. The Ravens had problems all season and seemed affected greatly by the season-ending back injury to left tackle Jared Gaither.
"Some mistakes, things like snapping it early, that’s a self-inflicted wound," Birk said. "But they’re making plays, you know. Playing a good team on the road, especially in the playoffs, you’ve got to be at your best.
"In the third quarter, they got back in the game score-wise and momentum-wise. We just had a hard time getting going after that. They’re good, so we’ve got to play better. We didn’t win enough battles to win the game."
ROUGH EXCHANGE: It got ugly between two fierce rivals Saturday night.
Steelers veteran wide receiver Hines Ward slammed free safety Ed Reed to the ground in the first quarter and was penalized for unnecessary roughness.
Ward said he was outnumbered and defending himself.
"I got a roughness call and I had four guys beating me up," Ward said . "I love it. That’s what it is all about. Ed Reed and I have our battles, no disrespect to Ed. He probably thinks it’s a little personal, but it’s playoffs. Loser goes home. So why sit there and save it? I am going to go out there and fight, scratch, and claw to win a ballgame."
Ward has a long history of abusing the Ravens.
Not only did he catch a touchdown pass against Baltimore, but he has dominated the Ravens with his downfield blocks.
Some of them have extremely controversial as he demolished former Baltimore linebacker Bart Scott and Reed with hits that sent them sailing through the air during a game at Heinz Field three years ago.
Afterward, Scott was so enraged he made a death threat against Ward before later backing off those remarks.
Reed didn’t conduct interviews after the game.
"If Ed takes it personal, so be it," Ward said. "It’s the playoffs. Like I said, the loser goes home. So I am going out there and fighting my tail off to help my guys get open or open up a huge run.
"Some guys don’t particularly like the way I go after guys, so the first personal foul call was just funny because I had four guys beating me up under the pile. And I come out with the personal foul. It wasn’t even offsetting. I just chuckled about it."
3RD-AND-19: How did the Ravens allow the Steelers to gain 58 yards on 3rd-and-19 in the final minutes? Ben Roethlisberger launched a 58-yard pass to rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown. That set up the game-winning touchdown run by running back Rashard Mendenhall.
The Ravens were in a prevent defense.
"That’s been our philosophy all year is don’t let the ball get thrown over your head," Suggs said. "It’s a prevent defense. It’s a third and 19, you can give up 18. Get off the field, and the offense has an opportunity to win the game.
"But somehow we gave up a deep one. I don’t know how, I wasn’t back there. I don’t know what happened. All I know is some dude caught the ball."
Brown dashed past Webb.
"He had a step," Webb said. "He got a step."
Roethlisberger was shocked that the Ravens only sent a three-man rush.
"We called the play and I told (offensive coordinator Bruce Arians) that even though all the outside guys are supposed to run 15-yard ‘stop’ routes, just try to get something, but I said, ‘Let’s send ’em, let’s just take a shot. Who cares? Chuck it deep.’
"I’m thinking to myself, ‘If they pick it, it’ll be a pick way down there, just as good as a punt. Let’s take a chance.’ Ed Reed lined up to the left and that’s always a key, to find out where he is. Keep the safety in the middle of the field and throw it as far as I can."
The Steelers had Mike Wallace line up wide left and had Hines Ward in the slot on the left with wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders lined up right and Brown wide right.
The Ravens essentially dropped eight players and rushed three.
"Yeah, I thought they were going to come all out," Roethlisberger said.
Added outside linebacker Terrell Suggs: "We were fully confident that our three-man rush could get there. That’s what we wanted to do. You’re not supposed to give up that big one."
Brown simply ran past Webb, who’s one of the fastest Ravens.
"He got even with the guy," Roethlisberger said. "Like we say, if he’s even, he’s leavin’."
And Roethlisberger made another play against the Ravens, adding to his legend.
"It’s Ben," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "You give this guy an opportunity to snap it, he’s capable of producing plays. It’s not always how you draw it up, but he has a no-blink mentality. He’s a competitor and a winner.
"And those guys follow him. In third-and-20, there’s no such thing as a primary guy. Hopefully, somebody down the field was open and he was."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh defended the strategy by defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, which was ultimately an ineffective gambit.
"I just think they made a great play over the top," Harbaugh said. "It was a great throw. They ran a nice route, got behind us obviously and made a play. It’s going to happen sometimes. I thought our secondary played well the whole game. I don’t have a problem with any individual performance. Our guys were battling out there. That’s what you ask for."
In Harbaugh’s opinion, Roethlisberger would have been able to escape the rush no matter how many people the Ravens sent after him.
"The ball would have been out either way," Harbaugh said. "That was a pretty quick throw. I don’t think it would have mattered how many guys we brought in that particular situation. We could have brought more and moved the ball out quicker.
"I thought we had good pressure. We had six sacks. We had a bunch of knockdowns. These are two teams that play great defense, so I don’t think pressure was the problem."
ALERT: The football practically looked lonesome, ignored while lying on the ground for several seconds during the first half.
All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn’t make a move toward a Roethlisberger fumble forced by Suggs on a blindside hit after pumping the football three times.
It wasn’t of any apparent interest to defensive tackle Haloti Ngata or Steelers offensive guard Ramon Foster even though it was lying at his feet.
However, the whistle hadn’t blown.
So, veteran defensive end Cory Redding reacted alertly.
Never having appeared in the playoffs before this season and a few seasons removed from playing for the winless Detroit Lions, Redding scooped up the fumble and rumbled 13 yards for the touchdown.
"Yeah, I started to celebrate," Suggs said. "I didn’t even know it was over. The biggest thing was that I wanted to get him down. He’s a handful, and I was just trying to get him down and the ball came out."
Deeply upset after the loss, Redding declined interview requests in the locker room.
It gave the Ravens a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
The Steelers challenged the ruling, but referee Jeff Triplette upheld the call. He announced that Roethlisberger’s arm was going backward at the time of Suggs’ concussive hit.
"There was a potential there, and we capitalized on it," Suggs said. "But I guess it doesn’t matter now because he gets to go on."
RUBBING IT IN: Ward loves to play the villain.
And he gloated a little bit after the game, rubbing some salt in the Ravens’ wounds.
"They always pride themselves on bullying guys, bullying people," Ward said. "They always do all the trash-talking. They have been trash-talking all week, how they want to break Ben’s nose again and stuff like that. Sometimes when you are fighting the bully, you just have to hit them in the mouth and you shut them up.
"To come back the way we did, the way we fought throughout the whole game, speaks volumes about our team, what we are made of and what type of character we are. It was a great win for our organization."
RICE FUMBLES: It was the worst possible timing for running back Ray Rice’s first fumble of the season. Rice fumbled in the second half when free safety Ryan Clark ripped the football out of his hands.
It directly led to a touchdown two plays later.
"I’ve got to be conscious of the situation," Rice said. "I didn’t even feel it. I’m not even sure what happened or who hit it out. That’s totally my fault. I’m not a fumbler. In a situation like that I was trying to make a play and I’ve got to be more careful. I was just trying to make a play."
Rice caught seven passes for 32 yards, rushing for one touchdown. However, he was limited to 32 rushing yards on 12 carries.
"We felt like we would come out and handle our business," Rice said. " Situations happened, fumbles, turnovers. Against a good team that can’t happen."
QUICK HITS: Birk and cornerback Chris Carr were both active despite being questionable on the injury report. … The Ravens’ scratches included wide receiver David Reed (torn left wrist ligament), safety Tom Zbikowski (bulging disc in his back), linebacker Jason Phillips, defensive tackle Arthur Jones, offensive guard Bryan Mattison, tight ends Davon Drew and Dennis Pitta and defensive tackle Lamar Divens. . … The Pittsburgh Steelers deactivated fullback Jonathan Dwyer, cornerback Crezdon Butler, offensive tackles Chris Scott and Tony Hills, defensive tackle Steve McClendon, defensive end Aaron Smith, outside linebacker Jason Worilds and third quarterback Charlie Batch. … When asked to evaluate the Ravens’ 13-5 season, six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk replied: "It’s hard to frame it right now. It definitely hurts. I think that we’re the best team in football, but it’s the best team on game day that wins and gets to advance."