After an ugly first half for the Steelers, newly acquired kicker Shaun Suisham continued his clutchiness (clutchitude?) by connecting on a 45-yard field goal, his fifth straight from over 40 yards. And this time, he was even iced by his own coach; maybe the play clock was expiring, maybe Pittsburgh had too many guys on the field, but either way, head coach Mike Tomlin had to use a timeout prior to the kick. In other kicker news, Billy Cundiff must have a super-human robot leg or something, because he kicked it deep into Pittsburgh's end zone - and sometimes out of it - on every kickoff.
Baltimore marched again on their first drive of the second half, but Pittsburgh managed to hold the Ravens to a field goal, thanks to excellent man coverage and pressure on quarterback Joe Flacco. The Steelers' next drive was maintained at midfield thanks to a neutral zone infraction on Cory Redding on fourth down. Unfortunately, on the next play, tight end Heath Miller sustained a brutal, stomach-turning helmet-to-helmet hit (video). Miller went to the ground immediately and remained motionless. In slow motion, it made me cringe to see just how much Miller's head bent back. Fortunately, he was able to return to his feet and walk off the field on his own. He sustained a concussion on the play and did not return. Hopefully, linebacker Jameel McClain will be fined for the hit. If not, such an inconsistency (and it wouldn't be the first, believe me) would be more fodder for the conspiracy theorists among us who think the league has been targeting the Steelers - particularly outside linebacker James Harrison - for their nasty collisions.
Some really unimaginative play calling from offensive coordinator Bruce Arians in a goal-to-go situation. Pittsburgh ran twice for negative yardage, then ran a quick screen to Mike Wallace on the outside. I can't endorse the runs on first and second down. Pittsburgh lost tackle Flozell Adams to an ankle injury earlier in the drive and was replaced by Trai Essex (usually a guard), further handicapping an already depleted offensive front. Even before Adams went down, Pittsburgh showed no ability to run block against the Ravens. With a compressed field in the red zone, I'm putting the ball in Roethlisberger's hands and trying to score through the air in that situation. In any case, Pittsburgh had to settle for another Suisham field goal, bringing the score to 10-9.
Following a few consecutive three-and-outs from both squads, Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden was flagged for pass interference with about four minutes remaining in regulation after he preemptively tackled Derrick Mason, sustaining Baltimore's drive. Thankfully, safety Troy Polamalu bailed McFadden out when he slipped around the edge of the line and forced a fumble on Flacco. LaMarr Woodley scooped it up and scampered down to the ten yard line, where Pittsburgh's offense took over. After two failed passes, it looked like the Steelers would get stonewalled at the goal line yet again. But then Roethlisberger hit running back Issac Redman on a delay route, and Redman did the rest, spinning and breaking tackles en route to the end zone.
McFadden was flagged again on Baltimore's final drive, as he shoved Derrick Mason out of bounds long before the ball arrived. He bounced back on the next play, however, breaking it up in the end zone. Even still, it's difficult to recall a Pittsburgh defender having a worse game than McFadden had on Sunday night; his lapses in coverage almost single-handedly delivered a Ravens win.
Nonetheless, Pittsburgh was able to stave off a late-game Baltimore drive and preserve a 13-10 victory. The Steelers (now 9-3) now control their own destiny in the AFC North. Will they take home the division crown and (likely) a first-round bye? Or will it be another Wild Card year for Pittsburgh? Only time will tell.
Check back early tomorrow morning for game notes.