BALTIMORE — The Ravens vowed they were going to send Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger into retirement with a loss. Instead, the likely Hall of Famer added yet another chapter to this storied rivalry as he engineered a game-winning rally in overtime to doom the Ravens’ season.
Roethlisberger converted two third downs and a fourth down on the Steelers’ 15-play, 65-yard overtime possession, and Chris Boswell’s 36-yard field goal with 1:56 left lifted the Steelers (9-7-1) to a 16-13 win against the Ravens (8-9), sending them into the offseason with six straight losses.
It’s the longest such skid of the John Harbaugh era.
“We fell short in numerous games here down the stretch in the sense that we just couldn’t find a play,” Harbaugh said. “We couldn’t find a play that we needed. We couldn’t find a way to put them in position to make the play that would make the difference in the game, and that’s what I feel worst about a a coach.”
For the Ravens, the loss is especially bitter since the Jacksonville Jaguars upset the Indianapolis Colts, the biggest obstacle in the Ravens’ long-shot hope to secure a playoff berth on this final day of the season.
Of course, the first thing the Ravens needed was to beat the Steelers, and they couldn’t deliver that after coming up short on a couple of key possessions in regulation and again in overtime.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson missed his fourth straight game with an ankle injury, and backup Tyler Huntley struggled, losing one fumble and throwing a pair of interceptions, including one in the end zone that proved especially costly.
The stadium was speckled with black and gold as thousands of Steelers fans flocked to M&T Bank Stadium to see what could have been Roethlisberger’s final game, and both teams struggled to move the ball in cold, rainy weather.
After a first half that ended in a 3-3 tie, Latavius Murray (16 carries, season-best 150 yards) broke free for a 46-yard touchdown run that gave the Ravens a 10-3 lead early in the third quarter.
The Steelers rallied to take a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger hit Chase Claypool on a 6-yard slant with 2:54 to play.
The Ravens tied the game when Justin Tucker drove a 46-yard field goal through the rain with 1:13 left, setting up the fifth overtime Ravens-Steelers game of the Harbaugh era.
Here are five quick impressions of the game, the Ravens fourth overtime game this season:
1. Giving Ben Roethlisberger a lot of chances is asking for trouble.
After taking a 10-3 lead in the second half, the Ravens had several opportunities to add to their lead and failed to do it, going three-and-out twice and throwing an end-zone interception.
Each time Ben Roethlisberger came back on the field with his team trailing by one score or less, it seemed the Ravens were tempting fate, especially with a short-handed defense that lost both cornerback Tavon Young (hamstring) and Chris Westry to injuries during the game. By the end, the Ravens were down to safety Brandon Stephens playing cornerback.
Late in the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger led the Steelers on a 10-play, 50-yard touchdown drive that included a 20-yard completion to Ray-Ray McCloud on third-and-9 and an 11-yard pass to Pat Freiermuth, who slipped away from Patrick Queen’s tackle en route to the first down.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger knifed a 6-yard score to Claypool for the Steelers’ first lead of the second half.
Then the Steelers’ overtime possession was vintage Roethlisberger.
After the Ravens were forced to punt, the Steelers took over at their own 17. On third-and-7, Roethlisberger connected with Freiermuth for 14, placing the ball perfectly just beyond the reach of safety Tony Jefferson. He later found Diontae Johnson for 11 yards on third-and-9, as Johnson got open with a move against Jimmy Smith.
The biggest play, though, came when the Steelers faced fourth-and-8 from the Ravens’ 41. Opting against a long field goal try, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin kept the ball in Roethlisberger’s hands, and he hit McCloud for 10 yards over the middle to extend the drive.
Chris Boswell kicked the game-winning field goal four plays later.
The Ravens today saw what hundreds of NFL players have seen over the past 18 years: Give Roethlisberger enough chances, and eventually he will make you pay.
“When the game is on the line, that’s when his best football comes out,” Ravens defensive end Calais Campbell said. “… He’s a legend for making the plays in the critical moments. … He’s a warrior. Much respect to him.”
2. Red-zone failures again doomed the Ravens.
For the second week in a row, the Ravens couldn’t find the end zone despite a goal-to-go situation, and two red zone failures proved disastrous.
Last week, in a one-point loss to the Los Angeles Rams, the Ravens had second-and-goal from the 2, but a penalty and a sack led to a 34-yard field goal by Justin Tucker.
This week, the Ravens had first-and-goal from the Steelers’ 3-yard line after Cameron Heyward was called for unnecessary roughness on a hit on Tyler Huntley. The Ravens, trailing 3-0 at the time, appeared primed to take the lead just before halftime.
Instead, T.J. Watt sacked Huntley on first down — tying the NFL single-season record with 22.5 — and Huntley’s second-down pass glanced off Marquise Brown’s hands at the goal line. On third down, Huntley’s pass was tipped away by Watt, and the Ravens had to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Tucker.
As the third quarter ended, the Ravens were well positioned to add to a 10-6 lead, with first down at the Steelers’ 15-yard line. The Ravens had enjoyed success gashing the Steelers 31st-ranked run defense, but on the first play of the fourth quarter, Huntley floated a pass to the end zone intended for Mark Andrews that was intercepted by Cameron Sutton.
“I was just trying to get the ball in a great player’s hands,” Huntley said.
Two possessions that could have generated 10 or 14 points instead netted just three, and that proved to be too costly to overcome.
3. Tyler Huntley looked like a backup quarterback.
Pressed into action as a starter for four games this season, sometimes on short notice, Tyler Huntley has shown poise, ability and the dual-threat danger that makes him a perfect complement to Lamar Jackson. But on virtually every NFL team, there is a marked dropoff from the starting quarterback to the backup, and Huntley’s shortcomings appeared today when the Ravens could least afford it.
To be clear, Huntley didn’t ask to be pressed into this moment, but as a competitor, he no doubt relished it and the players and coaches had full faith that he could deliver.
Unfortunately, he had an off day, finishing 16-for-31 for 141 yards, with two interceptions and a quarterback rating of 37.2, by far his lowest as a starter.
Granted, he had to deal with a Steelers pass rush that was as disruptive as usual, totaling three sacks and seven quarterback hits. He wasn’t helped when Marquise Brown had a potential touchdown slip through his hands and had another potential catch broken up at the sideline. But Huntley threw a pair of interceptions and lost a fumble after he scooped up a bad snap and tried to make something happen, was hit and fumbled, setting up the Steelers’ first field goal.
Huntley was also off-target in the rain, most notably on back-to-back plays in overtime that led to a punt on the Ravens’ only overtime possession.
In the final two games, the Ravens’ offense generated one touchdown.
To Huntley’s credit, he led the Ravens to a win against the Chicago Bears, and thrust into a tough spot, he gave the Ravens a chance in one-point losses to two of the NFC’s best teams, the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams.
This game, though, showed his limitations, but there’s still much to like about the quarterback who went undrafted out of Utah. He will be better for this experience.
“There’s a lot that’s going to drive me this offseason,” Huntley said. “[I’ve] just got to channel myself and try to work so when my time is called next year, I’m ready for it.”
4. Injuries defined this season, but so too did missed chances.
It seemed entirely fitting that when the Ravens introduced their Pro Bowl players before the game, two of the five — quarterback Lamar Jackson and fullback Patrick Ricard — were injured and did not appear.
No one will want to use injuries as any excuse, and head coach John Harbaugh has repeatedly said that the Ravens can win with the players in the locker room, but the staggering number of injuries will indeed be one of the stories of the 2021 season.
They came in waves, on both sides of the ball, and they came all season – running back J.K. Dobbins in a preseason game, Pro Bowl cornerback Marcus Peters and Gus Edwards in the same practice in early September, All-Pro tackle Ronnie Stanley after one week when it was cleared his surgically repaired ankle still wasn’t right, safety DeShon Elliott and Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey midway through the season. There were many others as well — defensive end Derek Wolfe and linebacker L.J. Fort didn’t play at all in the regular season — and then down went Jackson, whose ankle injury in Cleveland might have been the tipping point.
But through all of that, the Ravens were competitive to the end, and the season will be defined as much by missed chances and close calls as by injuries. They missed a pair of two-point conversions in games they lost by one point. Opponents converted a couple of key fourth downs with the game on the line.
The Ravens lost six games by either one or two points or in overtime.
Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells famously said, “You are what your record says you are,” and this Ravens team came up a play or two short too often to finish any better than 8-9.
“We have a bunch of guys that are really, really good football players,” said tight end Mark Andrews, who finished his season with 107 catches for 1,361 yards, both franchise records. “We’ve been hit by a lot of things this year, and things just didn’t quite go our way, but I think when we get guys back, we’ll come back strong. [If] guys are focused in the offseason, working on themselves, healthy, and we come back 100 percent, this is a scary team.”
5. The names may change, but this rivalry endures.
When the league schedule was announced last spring, the Ravens and Steelers meeting in the regular-season finale figured to have weighty playoff implications. After all, these teams had won 15 of the previous 19 AFC North titles coming into the season, and at least one of them had made the playoffs every year since 2013.
Yet as the teams squared off in the rain, with Steelers fans pouring into M&T Bank Stadium to see what could have been Ben Roethlisberger’s final game, playoffs were a long shot for both teams and the prevailing sense was that a changing of the guard is taking place in the AFC North.
The Bengals, powered by franchise quarterback Joe Burrow and a cadre of elite skill position players, have won the division and appeared primed to remain a factor for the foreseeable future. Roethlisberger is likely to retire, leaving the Steelers at a crossroads at the game’s most important position, while the Ravens must reckon with a 1-5 divisional record this year and a season lost under the weight of a run of injuries.
Will Ravens-Steelers look the same in future years? Yes and no. The characters change, but the ethos of this rivalry won’t. Terrell Suggs liked to tell young players, “You aren’t truly a Raven until you beat the Steelers.”
That sentiment, and the hitting, the intensity, the playoff implications, the blue-collar mentality of both cities, will continue to make this one of the league’s best rivalries.
Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox