Although the game wasn't aesthetically pleasing, the Baltimore Ravens came away pleased. They nearly skipped down the Heinz Field hallway to their locker room afterward, mocking the Styx “Renegade” tune routinely played amid Steelers home second halves (“Ohhhh, mama,” many a Raven crooned). Ravens running back Ray Rice, who barely out-rushed slow-footed Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich, wore a Terrible Towel on his head.
No matter that their 13-10 victory over Pittsburgh wasn't a work of art. Sunday night proved to be a feel-good moment for AFC North leader Baltimore (8-2) after swelling its margin to two games over the Steelers (6-4).
And they meet again in a fortnight, in Baltimore.
“It's never pretty in this game. It's the essence of this rivalry,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team has won three consecutively and four of six in the regular season against Pittsburgh. “Whatever procedure my brother [49ers coach Jim] had, I think I'm going to need sometime later tonight. Kudos to our defense. They kept a team out of the end zone for 59 minutes and 20-some seconds.”
“We're still in the hunt,” Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks insisted. “We're only one loss away. Given the games we have coming up, there's still a good chance for us.”
“It's not a make or break game for us,” wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders added. “One game doesn't define us. We got a lot more ball to play, and we all know that.”
The Steelers lost four more contributors to injury in this usually hard-scrabble skirmish, including starting defensive lineman Ziggy Hood -- who made for the fifth starter absent this night, joining previously ailing quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (shoulder), safety Troy Polamalu (calf), receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (foot).
Leftwich, who replaced Roethlisberger on Sunday and will likely again the next time these teams meet Dec. 2, was more productive than Joe Flacco (20 for 32 for 164 yards). Leftwich went 18 for 39 passing for 201 yards and 10 first downs through the air plus a surprising 31-yard rushing touchdown. But he was sacked three times and threw an interception that turned into a Baltimore field goal.
A Mike Wallace fumble turned into three more points for the Ravens, whose only touchdown came on a punt return.
“Defense, we got to help those guys,” inside linebacker Larry Foote said of his offensive counterparts. Particularly Leftwich, who made his first Steelers start and has played in just two Steelers games -- in relief appearances -- since the first month of the 2009 season, a span of some 55 games.
Trashed: Maybe it's because their record evened at 1-1 in the 1934 throwback uniforms that resemble either bumblebees or “Longest Yard” convicts togs. Maybe it's because the socks are merely disposable. But locker room garbage cans were littered with the horizontally striped black-and-gold socks after the game.
When the game turned: Jacoby Jones' 63-yard punt return for a Baltimore touchdown with 3:16 remaining in the first quarter changed momentum, and the Steelers neither got that nor the lead back the rest of the way. Harbaugh on Jones' TD gyrations: “He's the best dancer on the team, too.” ... The Steelers' third down with two yards to go at the Baltimore 4-yard line at the third quarter's end also was a key failure. The Steelers opted for a Leftwich pass attempt to Wallace in the end zone's right corner instead of turning to the run, which churned up 48 yards on 10 second-half carries. Why not a run there?
Highlight moments: Jones' punt return was rather impressive, with only running back Baron Batch getting so much as a hand on a Jones foot during that 63-yard flight. Otherwise, the game was pretty humdrum. Leftwich's career-long, 31-yard touchdown run will make highlights mostly for its jocularity. It was his first rushing TD since Christmas-time 2008 and second in 19 games dating to 2006.
- Ravens outside linebacker
Dannell Ellerbe-- 12 tackles, eight solo, and one tackle for loss
- Ravens middle linebacker
Jameel McClain-- Replacing Ray Lewis, he had nine tackles, six solo
- Ravens defensive back Corey Graham -- A No. 4 cornerback who arose due to injuries to start, he had eight tackles, three passes defended and a critical interception
- Steelers cornerback Keenan Lewis -- 10 tackles, eight solo, two passes defended and one tackle for loss
- Steelers running back
Jonathan Dwyer-- A game-high 55 yards on 12 carries
What they said about Byron Leftwich's run:
- Leftwich -- “I joke with my teammates all the time -- I am not a slow quarterback, I'm just the slowest black quarterback.”
What they said about Jacoby Jones' punt return
- Jones, when asked if Steelers punter Drew Butler was a last-man-standing challenge on his punt return -- “People in hell have snow cones.”
What they said about Corey Graham's interception:
- Graham -- “Leftwich stared at the guy a little bit, and I was able to see the route. I was able to come up underneath and get the ball.”
What they said about Leftwich's play:
- Steelers coach Mike Tomlin -- “I thought [his performance] was great. Obviously, not enough plays by him or by any of the rest of us to secure victory.”
- Steelers LB Larry Foote -- “We were waiting on [the offense to muster something]. But in these types of games we need turnovers. Their defense got two, and we didn't get any.”
- Leftwich -- “We just have to do a better job at making more plays than that. We just couldn't get our rhythm. A lot of third-and-longs. We just never could put two, three, four, five, six plays together.”
Numbers you should know: The Steelers started 0 for 6 on third down after entering the game tied for New England at the top of the NFL with a 49.6 percent third-down conversion rate. ... Jones collected his second touchdown return in two games and his third in five with a 63-yard punt return for a first-quarter score. But it was his first punt return TD in 64 career games. ... The teams combined to go 8 for 31 on third down (25 percent). ... Leftwich is 0-7 as a starter with three different teams since last winning Oct. 8, 2006 with Jacksonville.
Injury update: Ravens -- CB Chris Johnson (hamstring), TE Dennis Pitta (concussion). Steelers -- As if Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Brown weren't enough, the Steelers lost four other regulars Sunday night: RB Isaac Redman (concussion), starting DE Ziggy Hood (back), third-down back Baron Batch (foot), wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (ribs).
Going forward: Steelers -- Their AFC North round-robin continues Sunday at Cleveland before they head to Baltimore the following week. Ravens -- Baltimore travels to a struggling San Diego before returning home to renew this rivalry with the Steelers. That game will go a long way toward determining the AFC North playoff pecking order.