PITTSBURGH -- Two more Tommy Maddox turnovers that were converted into touchdowns. More than 400 yards allowed to a losing team. Another squandered big lead at home.
Somehow, the Pittsburgh Steelers found all this the perfect way to tune up for next weekend's AFC wild-card playoff game against Cleveland.
|Amos Zereoue again takes over for Jerome Bettis with style, rushing for two TDs. (AP)|
Pittsburgh wrapped up its seventh double-digit win season in Bill Cowher's 11 seasons, though the victory didn't mean all that much. Tennessee's 13-3 victory at Houston gained the Titans (11-5) a first-round playoff bye and meant the Steelers must play an AFC wild-card game at home next weekend.
Despite losing the weekend off they wanted and giving up 422 yards to the NFL's 27th-ranked offense, the Steelers say winning the way they did can only help them in the playoffs.
"It's not what we wanted coming into this game. But like I've said all season, this team sticks together and this is a huge momentum lift," Maddox said. "It's an exciting way to go into the playoffs.'
Even if they can't expect to win this way in the postseason.
"But if you look at our last six games, we played only one bad one," coach Bill Cowher said, referring to a 24-6 upset loss to Houston - their only defeat during that stretch. "We're going to the playoffs with a lot of confidence, and we'll see how far that takes us."
The Ravens (7-9) couldn't have been expected to do much on a day in which they had four turnovers and repeatedly kept Steelers drives going with third-down penalties.
Despite all that, Baltimore rallied from a 17-7 deficit to take a 31-20 lead in the fourth quarter. Then, despite giving up two quick Steelers scores, the Ravens nearly won it. But Jeff Blake's first-down pass from the Steelers 11 into double coverage was intercepted by Dewayne Washington with 14 seconds remaining.
"Sometimes you take a shot, and sometimes it doesn't work out," said Ravens coach Brian Billick, whose team missed the playoffs for the first time in three seasons. "If you're too cautious and too careful about everything you do, then you don't belong in this business."
Washington jumped over rookie Randy Hymes to make the interception, which prevented any chance of kicking a tying field goal.
"I wanted to get a jump ball -- Washington's 5-foot-10 and Randy is 6-4, and I'll take that matchup all day," Blake said. "I put it up, and it turned out the other way."
Ravens center Mike Flynn said, "I wanted to go for the win. We had time to make a couple of throws and if not, then kick the field goal."
The Ravens looked to be in good shape when Blake's 20-yard touchdown pass to Chester Taylor made it 31-20 with 12:57 remaining, 10 plays after Anthony Mitchell's interception.
Before that, James Trapp's interception of a pass fumbled into his hands by Steelers fullback Dan Kreider led to Blake's 31-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap that put Baltimore ahead 24-20. Blake was 19-of-26 for 336 yards, with Heap making seven catches for 146 yards.
But the Steelers, who blew 17-point leads in successive home games earlier this season, rallied with Zereoue's 5-yard scoring run midway through the fourth quarter and Maddox's go-ahead 8-yard scoring pass to Antwaan Randle El with 2:29 remaining. That score came after Taylor fumbled away the kickoff following the Zereoue touchdown.
Earlier, Maddox -- 20-of-30 for 194 yards and two touchdowns -- threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward and Zereoue scored from the 1 as Pittsburgh opened its 17-7 lead. The Steelers also got a big break when Gary Baxter's apparent interception return for a touchdown was called back by a roughing the passer penalty.
- Zereoue, replacing the injured Jerome Bettis, ran for 104 yards in his third 100-yard game this season.
- Six Maddox turnovers have been turned into touchdowns in the Steelers' last three home games.
- Even if they had won, the Ravens wouldn't have made the playoffs. They needed five other teams to lose Sunday, and not all did.
- Steelers LB Kendrell Bell (left ankle) was pulled in the third quarter for precautionary reasons.
- Steelers RB Jerome Bettis (knee) was held out.
- The Steelers passed for more than 4,000 yards for the first time, finishing with 4,036 yards. Maddox's 62.1 completion percentage also set a team record.
- Pittsburgh went 6-0 in the AFC North.
- Jamal Lewis ran for 86 yards after being held to 34 yards in the Ravens' earlier 31-18 loss to Pittsburgh.
The Associated Press News Service
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