BALTIMORE — In the latest installment of a rivalry widely perceived as the best in the league, should it have been any surprise that this one came down to the final play?
Lamar Jackson’s pass for Willie Snead in the end zone was broken up as time expired, and the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) remained undefeated with a thrilling 28-24 win against the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium Nov. 1.
The Ravens (5-2) controlled play for much of the game, piling up more than 250 rushing yards against the No. 2 run defense in the league, but several critical errors by Jackson proved fatal. Jackson threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and he lost a fumble inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line that cost an almost-certain three points.
And after being held scoreless in the first half, Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense piled up three-second half touchdowns, the last being an 8-yard throw to receiver Chase Claypool with 7:29 for the third lead change of the second half and what proved to be the game’s final score.
Jackson and the Ravens had two more possessions, including one that ended when Jackson was stuffed on a fourth-and-3 quarterback keeper from the Steelers’ 8 with 1:57 left. After a defensive stop, the Ravens got the ball back with 52 seconds left, and a fourth-down completion to Snead (5 catches, 106 yards) put the Ravens at the Steelers 23-yard line with eight seconds left.
Jackson against looked for Snead in the end zone as time expired but he was sandwiched between Minkah Fitzpatrick and Justin Layne and the ball fell away.
Here are five quick observations of the game, which leaves the Steelers in commanding position in the AFC North race with another showdown between the teams looming on Thanksgiving night:
1. The Ravens’ defense was superb early, but the Ravens failed to take advantage.
The halftime statistics were jarring: The Steelers’ offense had not scored, the Steelers had not converted a third down, and Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had thrown for 24 yards.The Ravens had outgained the Steelers 254-64.
But for all that, the Ravens lead was 17-7. The Ravens, and especially their defense, deserved better.
An interception return touchdown produced the Steelers’ only points, and the Ravens squandered a great scoring chance with a red-zone fumble. What should have probably been a 17- or 20-point lead at least never got larger than 10, and when Roethlisberger and the Steelers’ offense got on track on the second half — helped in part by another turnover — it was game on.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers used a spread offense and bunch formations with their talented group of receivers to find openings against a Ravens defense that had been dominant in the first half. Roethlisberger hit tight end Eric Ebron for an 18-yard touchdown two plays after Lamar Jackson threw an interception early in the third quarter, and then he directed a 10-play, 77-yard touchdown drive the next time the Steelers got the ball.
For all their early dominance, the Ravens suddenly found themselves trailing going into the fourth quarter. They had chances to amass a bigger lead early, and the failure to do so cost them dearly.
2. Lamar Jackson’s turnovers were the difference.
Head coach John Harbaugh and players stressed that Lamar Jackson had the Ravens in position to win, but Jackson’s miscues proved to be the difference, a fact he acknowledged.
Jackson’s second pass of the day was picked off by linebacker Robert Spillane and returned 33 yards for a touchdown for a quick 7-0 Steelers lead, and Jackson was also picked off on the first play of the third quarter, leading to another quick Steelers score. Jackson was also strip-sacked inside the Steelers’ 10-yard line.
“The turnovers, I feel, are the reason we lost the game,” Jackson said. “I put that on me.”
Jackson, whose only other start against the Steelers produced a passer rating of 54.9 — his lowest as a starter — finished 13-for-28 for 208 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 65.8, the third-lowest of his career as a starter.
The Steelers’ front four proved to be plenty disruptive, as Jackson was sacked four times. That allowed the Steelers to drop seven into coverage, and Jackson struggled to find open receivers or to deliver the ball on target.
After the loss to Kansas City this year — which dropped him to 0-3 against the Chiefs — Jackson called the Chiefs his “Kryptonite.” The Steelers seem to be as well, although Jackson, despite a three-interception game at Heinz Field last year, managed to escape with an overtime win that night.
To do that again on Thanksgiving, and to get the Ravens back into contention in the AFC North, Jackson has to play much better than he did in this game.
3. Ronnie Stanley’s injury adds to offensive questions.
For an offense that has yet to find its footing as the season nears the midpoint, the injury to All-Pro left tackle Ronnie Stanley is about the last thing it needs.
Stanley left the game late in the first quarter with what coach John Harbaugh said is a season-ending ankle injury. Stanley, who signed a five-year $98.5 million extension just two days ago, has been the anchor of the Ravens’ offensive line and has consistently graded out as one of the top blockers in the league against both the run and the pass.
To the Ravens’ credit, they soldiered on without Stanley in this game, piling up 265 rushing yards against a run defense that was ranked No. 2 in the league coming in. Orlando Brown moved to left tackle, and D.J. Fluker filled in at right tackle.
That is probably going to be the arrangement going forward as well, though the Ravens will need to add a tackle to the 53-man roster, whether that is Will Holden from the practice squad, a player acquired before the Nov. 3 trade deadline or an outside free agent.
Complicating the situation, rookie Tyre Phillips, who played tackle throughout his college career, left the game early as well with an ankle injury.
And for all those who wonder why some players are agreeable to long-term deals before reaching free agency, here’s another example. In this game, a major injury is always just one play away.
4. J.K. Dobbins deserves a larger role in this running game.
With starting running back Mark Ingram sidelined by an ankle injury, the Ravens put their ground game in the hand of Lamar Jackson, Gus Edwards and J.K. Dobbins, and they collectively gashed a Steelers defense that had been ranked No. 2 in the league against the run.
Dobbins finished with 15 carries for a career-high 113 yards, while Edwards had 16 carries for 87 yards and Jackson totaled 16 carries for 65 yards.
Dobbins proved especially effective in getting to the edge, and on one late series, the Ravens unveiled a quarterback-option attack with Jackson pitching to Dobbins for gains of 7, 9 and 15. Curiously, though, when the Ravens faced fourth-and-3 on that critical drive, the Ravens went with an empty backfield and kept Dobbins lined up wide. Jackson kept on a designed run and was stuffed short of the first down.
The way Dobbins had chewed up the yardage on that drive, it seemed another option look would have at least kept the Steelers guessing, but offensive coordinator Greg Roman opted to spread the field, and the defense, and bet that Jackson could find the space for the first down. He did not.
Ingram is 30, while Edwards is a restricted free agent next year. Dobbins, just 21, represents the future of this running attack, which is what the Ravens must have envisioned when they selected him in the second round of this year’s draft.
Coming into this game, Dobbins had never had more than nine carries in a game, and had roughly half as many carries as either Ingram or Edwards. But Dobbins is elusive, shows superb balance in extending plays after initial contact, and should command a larger role in this running game going forward.
5. Matthew Judon’s ejection adds more lore to the rivalry and cost the Ravens a key player.
This game added another chapter to this intense rivalry when linebacker Matthew Judon was ejected for “intentionally contacting an official” after a second-quarter scuffle that started between Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters and Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson.
Peters appeared to head-butt Johnson twice, and Johnson got a healthy grip on Peters’ face mask before Judon came over and threw Johnson to the turf at the Ravens bench. As more players scuffled, Judon appeared to make contact with field judge Rick Patterson as he tried to break free from players holding him back.
“The officials reported there was contact with an official, so he was disqualified,” said NFL vice president of officiating Al Riveron in a pool report.
On the field, referee Brad Allen announced that Judon was ejected for intentionally making contact with the official. Riveron’s statement does not mention intent, and asked by pool reporter Jeff Zrebiec whether intent mattered, Riveron said, “In the official’s opinion, that was enough to eject him. And as far as the announcement from Brad, I’d have to go back and listen to it, I don’t remember now exactly what he said.”
In a statement released by the team after the game, Judon said, “I would never intentionally make contact with an official. I was attempting to free my arm as I was being held back, and I inadvertently contacted the official’s arm.
“My emotions were running high in the moment,” Judon continued, “and I take full responsibility for what happened. I need to do a better job of keeping my cool and not doing anything that negatively affects my team.”
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