Playoff hopes still alive…Ravens’ penalties give game to Steelers

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The Baltimore Ravens had a chance to secure a spot in the playoffs Sunday but instead of playing inspired ball they played one of the their worst games of the season, making numerous unforced errors leading to a 23-20 defeat at the hands of the Steelers. Baltimore has won only once in Heinz Field (2006) since 2001.

The Ravens gave up 113 yards on 11 penalties that extended drives for the Steelers, and on the other side of the ball two flags negated touchdowns as did a dropped ball by sure-handed Derrick Mason in the end zone. But despite all this, they still almost came back from a 20-10 halftime deficit as they scored 10 points in the third quarter to tie the game at 20. But they were unable to score in the fourth quarter partly because of outstanding defense by the Steelers but mostly because of themselves. The total lack of discipline that led to all the penalties actually cost them the game.

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RISING TO THE OCCASION—Steelers defensive lineman Nick Eason lays a hit on Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco Dec. 27 at Heinz Field.

Ray Rice once again had his way with the Steelers as he ended the 32-game streak that Pittsburgh had held opponents to less than 100 yards rushing. He had 141 yards on 30 carries, but no touchdowns, as one was called back because of a flag.

The offense, which looked somewhat impressive in the first half, once again fell apart in the second half, scoring only three points.

However, there were some individual goals set for the season. Ben Roethlisberger became the first Steeler quarterback in history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in one season in one of his poorest games of the season. He was 17 of 33 for 259 yards, one touchdown and one interception that led to a touchdown for the Ravens. Even though Rashard Mendenhall only carried the ball 17 times for just 36 yards it was enough to put him over 1,000 yards for the season with 1,014. The Steelers have a 4,000-yard passer, 1,000-yard rusher and two 1,000-yard receivers (Holmes, Ward) in the same season for the first time.

Lamar Woodley led a solid defensive effort with seven tackles and two sacks, lifting his team-leading total to 11.5 sacks. James Farrior’s interception in the first quarter was Pittsburgh’s first in seven games. The cornerbacks, however, are still looking for their first interception of the season.

The playoff picture is still muddled with the Houston Texans, Denver Broncos, and New York Jets joining the Ravens and Steelers at 8-7. Five teams for two wildcard spots. The division champions are set with the Cincinnati Bengals (10-5), New England Patriots (10-5), San Diego Chargers (12-3), and the Indianapolis Colts (14-1).

Games this week will pit New England at Houston, Kansas City at Denver, Cincinnati at New York Jets, Baltimore at Oakland and Pittsburgh at Miami, thus giving the NFL what they love, keeping the playoff race alive through the final games of the season.

The Dolphins were in the race for the playoff spot until they laid an egg against the Texans in the first half, falling behind 27-0. They came back in the second half but it wasn’t enough as they fell 27-20, knocking them out of the race. But they will be trying to do the same to the Steelers this week. Ricky Williams has become their key player but he was taken out of the game when they fell behind 27-0 which led to an air attack by quarterback Chad Henne who was 35 for 55 for 322 yards and one touchdown. With the success of Rice, look for the Dolphins to hand the ball to Williams often to test the Steelers run defense, which was first in the league going into the Baltimore game, but has been suspect of late.

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