The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens pulled off hard fought victories to set up this weeks’ first place showdown in the AFC North. The game will feature two of the best defenses in the NFL headed by linebackers Ray Lewis for the Ravens and James Harrison for the Steelers. It should be a hard hitting no nonsense battle between two great defenses and average offenses. The game will probably not be decided until the final minutes, which has been the case for most Steelers games this season.
“The message is simple for us: We haven’t lost at home, so let’s defend that,” Lewis said. “We take care of that; everything else takes care of itself. From our side and their side, there is no talking that has to be done. We’ve been playing each other a long time and now it comes down to one of those showdown games.”
In what should have been a sure defeat the Steelers pulled off the 19-16 overtime victory Sunday in Buffalo when receiver Stevie Johnson dropped a sure touchdown that would have won the game for the 2-9 Bills.
“I had the game in my hands and I dropped it,” Johnson said. “Humbled. Humbled.” Then, growing emotional, Johnson added: “I’ll never get over it. Ever.”The Steelers have been one of the luckiest teams in football, pulling off several wins after doing all they could to lose.
“I had my helmet on and I was going to the locker room,” defensive tackle Casey Hampton said, when he saw Johnson 2 yards in the end zone, having sneaked in behind defensive backs Ike Taylor and Ryan Clark.
“You’re talking about a guy who’s been extremely hot,” Clark said of Johnson. “Luckily for us, he didn’t (catch it).”
New kicker Shaun Suisham was four for four in field goals, including the game winning 41-yard field goal to win the game in overtime.
The Steelers went back to the run against one of the worst rushing defenses in the league as Rashard Mendenhall carried the ball 36 times for 151 yards and Isaac Redman also looked impressive on short third down situations as he had 25 yards on 5 carries.
After jumping off to a 13-0 first half lead, the Steelers only scored three points in the second half as the Bills were able to come back and tie it in regulation 16-16, as they fell back into their old habits of having to settle for field goals instead of taking the ball in the end zone.
With Buffalo double teaming Mike Wallace, Hines Ward had an outstanding game catching 7 passes for 107 yards. Wallace was held to just 3 catches for 33 yards well below his league leading yards per catch average.
The Ravens beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers pretty much in the same manner. They jumped off to a big lead only to have the Bucs come back to make it a game 17-10.
Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger’s production has been very similar this season and remained close in the two victories last weekend. Flacco was 25 of 35 for 289 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger was 20 of 33 for 246 yards. Even though Ray Rice was held to 85 yards on 20 carries he has been a major force for the Ravens this season. But with the acquisition of Anquan Boldin at wide receiver joining the always reliable Derrick Mason, who had 8 catches for 87 yards against the Bucs, T. J. Houshmandzadeh, and tight end Todd Heap, the Ravens have a much more balanced attack. With the Steelers still being the best team in football against the run, look for Flacco to use these new weapons in the air to attack the Steelers secondary.
The Bills had a two-game win streak snapped against the Steelers.
“We fought so hard out there, yet again, it’s one of those overtime heartbreakers,” said quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who finished 23 of 45 for 265. “There’s not much to say than the guys in that locker room, including me, are really hurting over that one.”
Once again the Steelers were heavily penalized—10 times for 107 yards—including five offensive holding penalties, three against guard Chris Kemoeatu.
“We can’t make those mistakes as an offense,” Roethlisberger said.
The Ravens (8-3) improved to 5-0 at home and remained tied atop the AFC North with Pittsburgh. Baltimore will be striving for its franchise-record ninth straight home win Sunday night.
“I don’t think you ever want to diminish this victory,” Coach John Harbaugh said. “It’s one we really need to get where we’re going. It’s a game that bridged us into December. It gives us an opportunity to accomplish some things. We’re playing the biggest game of the year.”
Flacco connected with Todd Heap for a 65-yard score and hit Mason for a 10-yard touchdown during a three-minute span of the second quarter to stake Baltimore to a 17-3 halftime lead. Flacco now has 53 career TD passes, surpassing Vinny Testaverde (51) for most in Ravens history. Flacco had a 76-yard touchdown throw to Rice called back because of a block in the back by Boldin.
“I thought we were in control. We were never really threatened until the end of the game,” Flacco said. “We had to do a good job there and put the game away.”
The wins by the Steelers and Ravens also kept them one game behind the New England Patriots and New York Jets for the best record in the AFC.