The Steelers jumped out to a 14-0 lead and looked poised to cruise to another AFC North title before the Ravens woke up and not only made it a game, but led 31-20 in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh, which improved to 11-2 on the season but has been one of the NFL's most inconsistent in-game teams, rallied for 19 points over the final 15 minutes and another Chris Boswell field goal proved to be the difference. When it was over, the Steelers eked out a 39-38 victory and clinched the division and the playoff spot that comes with it.
Ben Roethlisberger set a career high with 66 attempts, completing 44 for 506 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. And Antonio Brown continued to quietly make his case in the MVP race by hauling in a huge reception that not only put him over 200 yards on the evening but set up the game-winning field goal:
Brown finished with 11 catches for 213 yards. For the season he now has 99 receptions for 1,509 yards and nine touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the Ravens' offense continued to show signs of life after laying dormant for the first 12 weeks of the season. Last Sunday, they dropped 44 on the Lions -- including 370 yards of total offense -- and in Pittsburgh they finished with 38 points and 413 total yards. But Baltimore's offense stalled on the penultimate drive, and after the Steelers took the lead, the Ravens' fate was sealed when rookie T.J. Watt strip-sacked Joe Flacco as time expired.
And that, as the saying goes, was that.
What's JuJu up to?
The Steelers were without one of their best players -- rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster was serving a one-game suspension -- but his replacement played well. Tight end Vance McDonald caught four passes for 52 yards before leaving in the second half with a shoulder injury. In case you're wondering how JuJu spent his evening, it was in front of the television with his Steelers' helmet on. For real:
Alex Collins is legit
Collins was originally a 2016 fifth-round pick of the Seahawks, a team that could desperately use his services now. But Seattle released him before the 2017 season and the Ravens signed Collins to their practice squad. He was on the active roster by Week 2 and he's quietly become the team's best playmaker after Justin Tucker.
Collins gashed the Steelers for most of the evening and when it was over, he had 18 carries for 120 yards -- that's 6.7 yards per carry -- and a jaw-dropping touchdown:
The only knock on Collins is that he has a propensity to fumble -- which he did in the first quarter, though the Ravens recovered -- but that seems like hardly enough of a reason to keep him on the sidelines. Coach John Harbaugh appears to agree; after warning that Collins wouldn't play if he couldn't hold onto the ball, the Ravens are in win-now mode, and the best chance to, you know, win now includes heavy doses of Collins.
Is Antonio Brown the MVP?
There's zero percent chance he wins it but he's playing out of his mind, even by Antonio Brown's standards. Never mind that he already bested last year's yardage totals (88 receptions, 1,284 yards) before Sunday night's get-together, or that his yards per catch (14.7) is 2.6 yards higher than 2016. It's damn near impossible to stop him. Certainly not with one man, or even double-coverage.
We showed you above the catch that set up the game-winning kick. And here's Brown with another run-of-the-mill ridiculous grab that set up the Steelers' second touchdown:
Tom Brady will win the MVP and it will be well deserved, but we shouldn't lose sight of just how unbelievable Antonio Brown has been this season.
Honoring Ryan Shazier
The Steelers lost one of their best players last week when linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury. He has been hospitalized since Monday night and his status for the rest of the season remains unclear. One of the NFL's most athletic linebackers, Pittsburgh replaced him on Sunday night with backup outside linebacker Arthur Moats and Sean Spence, who was a street free agent five days ago. The Ravens spent much of the evening exploiting this matchup, and if not for a career night from Big Ben, Brown being Brown, and a timely strip sack from T.J. Watt, the Steelers would have lost.
But Shazier remained on the mind of his teammates, before, during and after the game.
Fun facts (if you're a Steelers fan)
With his 1-yard touchdown run, #Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell (@L_Bell26) scored his sixth rushing touchdown of 2017, marking his fourth season with at least six rushing touchdowns— Dom Rinelli (@drinelli) December 11, 2017
He moved into a tie with Terry Bradshaw for the fourth-most rushing touchdowns in team history: 32
The Steelers remain atop the AFC with a 11-2 record. That won't change even if (when) the Patriots beat the Dolphins on Monday night. Meanwhile, the Ravens fall to 7-6 -- and from the No. 6 seed to the No. 7 seed. The good news is their remaining schedule is an easy one; the bad news is that the Chargers juggernaut might be unstoppable.
Here's where things get real for the Steelers. They've eked out victories in five of their past six games, thanks in large part to Boswell's last-second heroics against the likes of the Colts, Packers, Bengals and now the Ravens. When the Patriots come to Heinz Field next week, Boswell almost certainly won't be the difference maker, especially if Pittsburgh's defense continues to consistently give up chunk plays.
This game could also serve as a preview of a playoff rematch, though any chance the Steelers have of beating the Patriots will have to happen at home. Put another way: If ever there were a must-win Week 15 game for an 11-2 team, it's next Sunday in Pittsburgh. Vegas might like the Steelers but the reality is that they'll be underdogs, and until they prove they can stop -- or even slow -- Tom Brady, that's how it should be.
The Ravens will be in Cleveland where they'll face the still-winless Browns. It should be an easy victory for Baltimore, which will finish at home against the Colts and Bengals. Win out, and it's hard to imagine the Ravens don't earn one of the wild cards.