Fifteen seconds in the third quarter altered the complexion of the football game as the Steelers (3-1) eventually grinded out a 23-20 overtime victory over the Ravens (2-1) at Heinz Field before 64,038 as well as a national television audience. Kicker Jeff Reed booted a game-winning 46-yard field goal a few minutes into overtime.
As a consequence of the loss, the Ravens lost the lead in the division to the Steelers.
"They didn’t beat us," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "They escaped. They kind of stole one, actually."
Following quarterback Ben Roethlisberger buying himself time with his feet to deliver the football to running back Mewelde Moore for a 24-yard completion on 3rd-and-8, the Steelers were essentially in position for Reed’s clutch kick.
The Ravens won the coin toss after regulation, but went three-and-out as they were unable to move the football as precocious rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was sacked on third-and-10 at the Baltimore 15-yard line by linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
"We had it, but you have to play 60 minutes of football," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I’m not big into moral victories. You either win or you lose, point blank. We let them off the hook a few times."
Between strong performances by outside linebacker James Harrison and Roethlisberger, the Steelers had just enough to close out a stingy Ravens defense and Flacco. The win marks the Steelers’ 14th consecutive Monday night win at home, a streak that dates back to an Oct. 14, 1991 loss to the New York Giants.
"Disappointing outcome, but the way we played, the way our guys competed and fought, that was positive," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Our guys kept their composure and they fought back early in the game when we were in the hole and competed all the way throughout.
"There’s nothing you can say about this game other than the fact that a couple plays went against us that we need to play better in. Aside from that, our guys played well enough to win. They played their hearts out."
In a wild swing of momentum, Flacco was smashed from behind by Harrison in a pivotal third-quarter play. His forced fumble was scooped up by linebacker LaMarr Woodley and returned seven yards for a touchdown. Woodley celebrated by leaping into the stands and was pounded on the back in appreciation by the fans.
Of course, it was Harrison whose one-man wrecking crew performance a year ago keyed the Steelers’ 38-7 Monday night win a year ago over his for mer team. He recorded 3 1/2 sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery against Baltimore last season to vault himself into the Pro Bowl.
This time, Harrison registered 10 tackles, 2 1/2 sacks, three quarterback hits and a game-changing turnover.
"Before I could throw the ball away, I was getting hit," Flacco said of Harrison’s forced fumble. "I just have to take care of the ball. If we take care of the ball there, it’s a different story. I’ll learn from this."
Last year, Roethlisberger threw a franchise-record five touchdown passes against Baltimore. He completed 14 of 24 passes for 191 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
"I was tired of being embarrassed on offense," Roethlisberger said. "I told the guys that. I had to make a statement."
Meanwhile, Flacco gamely completed three passes to wide receiver Derrick Mason for 50 yards on a game-tying drive that began at the Ravens’ 24-yard line.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain powered into the end zone for a two-yard touchdown run off left offensive guard Ben Grubbs’ block with 4:07 remaining in the game to force overtime.
Flacco completed 16 of 31 passes for 192 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.
"He didn’t get rattled," Mason said. "He showed poise out there. That’s all you can ask of a young quarterback to do is to show poise amidst a lot of confusion.
"In the second half, they were throwing a lot of stuff at him. Through it all, he showed the poise of a veteran quarterback. We’ve got to help him out as well."
The Ravens had built a 13-3 halftime lead, but lost the momentum for the majority of the second half when Roethlisberger located swift wide receiver Santonio Holmes for a 38-yard touchdown pass that brought Pittsburgh to within three points of tying the game.
Holmes dashed away from the swiping hands of cornerback Fabian Washington, who was starting in place of an injured Samari Rolle. Then, cornerback Chris McAlister bounced off Holmes in a failed open-field tackle attempt on a shoulder hit as he didn’t wrap up while free safety Ed Reed also missed his chance to corral him.
"I jumped the route great, but the ball went through my hands," Washington said. "I don’t think I could have covered any better, but I just wish I could have caught the football."
During that drive, linebacker Jarret Johnson was penalized for a 15-yard personal foul for unnecessary roughness for shoving wide receiver Hines Ward after the Steelers’ first play of the drive. The penalty came on the heels of punter Sam Koch’s 27-yard shank to the Steelers’ 33-yard line.
"Obviously, I can’t have that penalty," Johnson said. "I lost my head. I didn’t realize where I was on the field. I have to watch it. It just hurts.
"The receiver is a good blocker and tried to crack-back on me. I hit him and when I hit him I lost vision of the back. I lost my cool and pushed Hines Ward. It’s stuff you can’t do. You can’t give that team opportunities like I did."
Added Suggs: "We’ve got to learn that we will never get over the hump if we continue to do stupid crap in a football game. That changed the whole outcome of the game. It seems like it never fails like they can always depend on the Ravens doing something dumb. Coach told us at halftime, ‘Don’t do the extracurricular, we’ll get them between the whistles.’ We’ll never get over the hump if we don’t learn from it."
Following Woodley’s touchdown, Flacco remained under siege as the Steelers sent Woodley after him for another sack and forced fumble. The loose football was recovered by offensive guard Marshal Yanda.
"I thought they handled the pass rush adequately," Harbaugh said. "There were some one-on-one situations where the Steelers performed pretty well. All in all, we were solid."
Although Flacco displayed savvy and composure beyond his years in initially outdueling Roethlisberger, the veteran quarterback was intent on getting the last word.
When linebacker Bart Scott penetrated the line of scrimmage to pressure Roethlisberger, he brushed off the tackle attempt and completed a 49-yard pass to Ward behind McAlister.
Then, Reed converted a 19-yard field goal to cap a seven-play, 60-yard drive.
The Ravens were hoping to get off to a 3-0 start for the second time in franchise history and their first time since winning the division title two years ago.
The loss follows the Ravens going 0-3 in Monday night games last season.
Flacco had a strong first half in his first NFL road start.
The first-round draft pick delivered his first NFL touchdown pass with 22 seconds remaining in the first half, calmly and accurately lobbing the football to tight end Daniel Wilcox in the corner of the end zone for a four-yard score.
"If we could have capped it with a victory, it would have made the touchdown that much more special to me," Wilcox said.
The six-play drive was keyed by Flacco’s 13-yard sideline pass to Mason where the veteran dragged both feet in bounds for a first down. The play was initially ruled incomplete, but was overruled following an instant-replay review.
Three plays later, Flacco found McClain on a screen. The 6-foot, 260-pounder showed off some nifty moves, making defenders miss to rumble down to the Steelers’ 3-yard line.
After missing on two attempts, including an errant throw intended for wide receiver Mark Clayton, Flacco connected with Wilcox in stride for the score.
Under duress early after a botched exchange with center Jason Brown on his first snap, Flacco was incomplete on his first two passes and sacked once.
Ultimately, Flacco settled down and wound up completing 12 of his first 21 passes for 106 yards in the first half with no interceptions for an 86.6 quarterback rating.
Conversely, Roethlisberger was sacked three times and limited to 5 of 9 accuracy for 43 yards and a 28.7 quarterback rating in the first half. The football appeared to slip out of his hands on a short pass intended for tight end Heath Miller as 6-foot-4, 350-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata gladly accepted the gift of an interception.
The turnover set up Matt Stover’s 33-yard field goal in the first quarter to tie the score after Steelers kicker Jeff Reed opened the game’s scoring with a 49-yard field goal. The 10-play drive included 18-yard and 14-yard completions to Mason.
Ironically, Flacco’s first road start happened in the same city where he rode the bench behind Tyler Palko as a University of Pittsburgh freshman and sophomore prior to transferring to Delaware in frustration.
In the first half, the Ravens won the time of possession battle against the Steelers with an edge of 18 minutes, 11 seconds to 11 minutes, 49 seconds.
After the Steelers’ first drive, the Ravens held them to one yard and no first downs for the remainder of the first half.
However, the Ravens’ cause was eventually doomed by a fumble, a blown coverage and a missed tackle.
Now, the Ravens have to move on quickly to play the undefeated Tennessee Titans (4-0) next Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
"This isn’t going to put a hole in our season," McClain said. "We’re going to keep fighting. This game is behind us already. The Steelers still have to come to Baltimore."
NOTES: Ravens running back Willis McGahee’s chest was X-rayed, but no fracture was revealed. "I got a little injury, but I’ll be all right," said McGahee, who rushed for 42 yards on 13 carries.. "I took a helmet right on the side. I don’t know what’s going on. It was real aggravating. I couldn’t move at some point, but I will be ready." McGahee said that his eye injury wasn’t a factor. "It looks bad, but it’s not bothering me," he said. …Mendenhall fractured his shoulder and is expected to be placed on injured reserve as well as offensive guard Kendall Simmons (torn Achilles’ tendon). … Steelers linebacker Andre Frazier was carted off the field on a stretcher with a spine injury after being blocked by rookie safety Haruki Nakamura while covering the opening kickoff. Both are former University of Cincinnati players. Frazier was moving his legs and a hand while being taken off the field. Trainers removed his face mask as a precautionary measure. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said later that Frazier is expected to be fine.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.