PITTSBURGH -- The Baltimore Ravens aren't usually this odiously knuckleheaded in a football game, but on this day they were, and they'll remember Sunday afternoon for a critical dropped pass that should've easily been caught and the lost opportunity to bury the dangerous Steelers.
The Ravens can make all the excuses they want for losing 23-20 to the flawed, yet suddenly hot defending Super Bowl champions (the refs are often the first culprit in Ravens-ville) but they likely would've won this game had Derrick Mason caught a pass in the end zone that hit him right in the chest.
That's what this game came down to: a professional who should make a catch with the postseason on the line.
As the fourth quarter started and with the game tied at 20, the Steelers allowed Mason to get obscenely wide open in the end zone. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw a perfectly tight lob that hit Mason dead in the chest. The football careened and giggled and bobbled in and out of Mason's hands before falling to the ground. Flacco looked simultaneously stunned and exasperated.
That's it, that's the play. Nothing else from the game matters. Not the other silly Baltimore penalties or the interception of Ben Roethlisberger with just minutes left that was overturned on a questionable illegal contact penalty.
If Mason makes that grab the Ravens are up 27-20 and since neither team could muster more than three points the rest of the way, that touchdown might've sealed it. Instead, after that, came a Ravens penalty, followed by an incomplete pass, a really dumb personal foul penalty on offensive lineman Oniel Cousins, another incomplete pass and then a punt.
To his credit, Mason didn't hide from the media after the game and addressed the drop.
"I just didn't catch it," he said. "That's what it boils down to. Didn't catch the ball. We go up 27-20, then 27-23, they would've had to come down and score a touchdown. It happened. You move on, but that's one I gotta have. I gotta have. I can't allow myself to relax in a situation like that regardless of how open I am."
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"I think we were all surprised," said Flacco of the drop, "but you just have to move on and continue the drive. We were still in a position where we think we're going to put the ball in the end zone, ended up hurting ourselves there and not getting anything."
It was one of those alternate universe moments. Mason makes that catch and the Ravens are on their way to the playoffs. Instead he drops it and gives a hated rival new life.
It takes the brain power of someone who speaks 14 languages fluently and understands the contrapositive of the black hole infinity universe to comprehend all of the different playoff scenarios, but suffice it to say the Ravens now need to beat Oakland next week to secure a playoff spot and the Steelers must beat Miami and get some serious help. But Pittsburgh does have a shot.
The frustrating part about the Ravens, a truly great franchise, is that sometimes they blame the entire world without looking in the mirror. In his postgame news conference, Baltimore coach John Harbaugh was especially prickly with the press, acting as if the loss was the media's fault. When asked about the 113 yards in penalties, Harbaugh entered into cantankerous mode.
"I think you guys can go to penalties if you want," he said. "You can point the finger at whatever you want. We're going to Oakland. We're going to play our hearts out every single week. Specific penalties we can talk about. You want to talk about a holding penalty here and there? You want to talk about illegal contact late in the game? Check what the rules said."
Meanwhile the Steelers are suddenly ornery again. They don't have that complete Super Bowl swagger back, but it's getting there. The team's chances of making the playoffs still remain slim, but there is definitely some nastiness remaining in their DNA.
They're fighting again.
"You know, like I just told the football team, this is our bed, but I like how they're laying in it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "Not dead yet."
Just one catch, an easy one, and they might have been.