Steelers in state of crisis but still in hunt for playoff spot

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With their top two quarterbacks out with injuries, it was supposed to be an easy win for the Baltimore Ravens. All the experts picked them, even Bill Cowher, but Dennis Dixon showed the world he can play football as the Steelers nearly upset the world before losing 20-17 in overtime.

Impressive
IMPRESSIVE DEBUT— Steeler quarterback Dennis Dixon outruns Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce (90) for a touchdown during the second half, Nov. 29, in Baltimore.

Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger suffered a concussion in the last game, however, he practiced all week thinking he was going to play. Second string quarterback Charlie Batch broke his hand in the last game and will miss the next three to four games. This moved Dennis Dixon up to second string. Well, after practice on Friday, Roethlisberger started having headaches so the doctors did not clear him for the game. That led to Dennis Dixon starting.

Dixon had only thrown one pass in two years in an actual regular season game. However, anyone who had seen him in pre-season knew he could play the game. The Steelers played a very conservative first half with Rashard Mendenhall carrying the ball the bulk of the time as Dixon picked his times to throw, going 8 of 10 for 84 yards.

In the second half with the Ravens leading most of the way and rushing everybody he was only 4 of 16 for 61 yards. However, the running game wasn’t as effective either, or the defense.

Most expected the defense to step up and either win the game by scoring touchdowns, or at least keep the Ravens bottled up, but Ray Rice had an outstanding all around game as he picked up 88 yards on 19 carries on the ground, the best against Pittsburgh this season, and 67 yards on five receptions. The defense kept quarterback Joe Flacco in check most of the night but was not able to contain Rice. He was the difference in overtime as he marched down field to put the Ravens in field goal range after a Dixon interception in overtime.

On the whole, Dixon had a solid game and proved that he belongs in the NFL and could probably be starting for another team soon. The injury-prone Batch is done. The Steelers will probably keep him for the remainder of this season but look for Dixon to move into that second slot.

For some strange reason the Steelers offensive coordinator did not take advantage of Dixon’s running ability other than the touchdown run, which was not a called play. If he had the Steelers could have easily won the game.

What makes his performance even more impressive is the fact he got very little, if any, practice with the first team, because Roethlisberger was expected to start. Look for the Steelers to be a lot more creative with this young, talented quarterback if Roethlisberger can’t play this week against the Oakland Raiders (3-8).

In the AFC North title fight, the Cincinnati Bengals (8-3) moved out to a two game lead with an unimpressive 16-7 win over the lowly Cleveland Browns (1-10). This puts the Steelers in a three- way battle with the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars for the final wildcard spot with 6-5 record. The Denver Broncos are one game ahead at 7-4.

Overall, Mendenhall had a solid game with 95 yards on 24 carries. Dixon was 12 of 26 for 145 yards with one touchdown run, one touchdown pass and the critical interception.

The Steelers will play Oakland here, travel to Cleveland and face the Green Bay Packers at Heinz Field. The Ravens face Green Bay, the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears. The Bengals have two really tough games after Detroit this week. They must play the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) on the road then the red hot 8-3 San Diego Chargers at home.

If the Steelers are able to win their next three games they could be right back in the race for the AFC North title.

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