For three quarters, the Ravens' defense stifled Ben Roethlisberger and held one of the NFL's best offenses in check. The Steelers couldn't get anything going offensively for much of Sunday afternoon, with the Ravens controlling both the ball and the clock for most of the game.
Two Baltimore linebackers (first Zachary Orr, then C.J. Mosley) capitalized on poor throws from Roethlisberger, picking him off deep in his own territory twice during the third quarter. Orr's pick led to a touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Steve Smith; Mosley's led to a field goal.
At that point, Baltimore led 20-10. Then the Steelers went to work, scoring 21 points in the final 13:26 to wrap up a division title.
The game-changing play, strangely, may have been an incomplete pass to rookie Demarcus Ayers -- who had not played a single snap all season heading into this game. Roethlisberger targeted him on a deep pass down the right sideline, and fellow rookie Tavon Young interfered with Ayers. It wasn't long before Le'Veon Bell was in the end zone and the Ravens' lead was cut to three.
Baltimore went three-and-out on its ensuing drive and the Steelers, even after being pinned deep near their own end zone, waltzed right back down the field to take the lead. It all happened so quickly. Six plays, 90 yards, just south of three minutes:
- 23-yard run by Bell
- Incomplete pass
- 13-yard run by Bell
- 21-yard pass to Antonio Brown
- 26-yard pass to Antonio Brown
- 7-yard touchdown pass to Bell
And that was pretty much that ... or so it seemed. Joe Flacco led the Ravens right back down the field with a 14-play, 75-yard drive that ended with fullback Kyle Juszczyk -- of all people -- running over a couple Steelers and bulldozing his way into the end zone.
All of a sudden, Baltimore had the lead right back.
Unfortunately, the Ravens left Roethlisberger with too much time. Ben navigated the Steelers 75 yards in 69 seconds, firing strikes to Jesse James, Ayers, Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, James again, and finally, Antonio Brown to finish off a thrilling comeback victory.
Brown made an incredible effort on the game-winner, fighting his way across the goal line and stretching his arm out with the clock winding down and the Steelers out of timeouts.
They say that big-time players make big-time plays, and for the Steelers, that definitely held true on Sunday. Big Ben finished 24 of 33 for 279 yards and three scores, overcoming his two interceptions to lead the Steelers to a win. Brown was held in check through three quarters, but he ultimately finished with 10 grabs for 96 yards and the game-winning score.
Here are five more things to know about Pittsburgh's 31-27 win.
1. Playoff picture
Pittsburgh clinched the AFC North and a home playoff game in the first round with a win.
The Ravens' own playoff hopes are officially kaput. The AFC's No. 6 seed will now come down to the Broncos and the Dolphins.
2. Le'Veon Bell is a human joystick
Some things just aren't fair. Like this:
Or this, where Bell made Brandon Williams -- one of the NFL's best run defenders -- look ineffectual:
Or this, where he just made one cut and scooted away from everyone on the defense:
I've said this a few times throughout the season and I still believe it to be true: Bell almost never hits a hole at full speed, but it's actually a good thing for him.
Most running backs that don't hit the hole at full speed are hesitating and closing off gaps that are readily available. You don't want those guys dancing around in the backfield. Bell, though, is actively seeking out a better running lane than the one immediately presented to him -- and he almost always finds it. He's just a marvelous player.
Bell's final line: 122 yards on 20 carries, 15 more on three catches, and two total scores -- one in the air and one on the ground. Yeah. He's good.
3. A rare miscue
The Ravens have one of the NFL's best kicking games. Coming into this game, they had the No. 6 rated special teams unit in the league, per Football Outsiders, and no team had added more points of field position via field goals and extra points.
Justin Tucker, of course, is the most accurate field goal kicker in NFL history. If you give him a chance to put one through the uprights, it's almost a guarantee that he's going to do it.
That's why it was such a rarity to see the Ravens botch a field goal try. Holder Sam Koch couldn't handle a high snap from long-snapper Morgan Cox, and the Ravens missed out on three points that it turned out they could have really used later in the game.
4. Standout defensive performances
It may not seem like it from the final score, but for most of the afternoon, this was a hard-fought defensive battle. Several defenders on both sides of the ball were all over the place and had ridiculous games.
For Pittsburgh, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, and Ryan Shazier all finished with double-digit tackles. Timmons had a huge sack prior to the muffed snap mentioned above. Sean Davis had a bunch of tackles, two passes defensed, and a tackle for loss.
Baltimore's defense sprung some leaks in the fourth quarter, but kept the Steelers in check for most of the game. Zachary Orr was incredible in his run defense responsibilities in the first half and got the first pick on Big Ben. C.J. Mosley read Roethlisberger's eyes and undercut a route on the second pick. Tavon Young, pass interference aside, was excellent for much of the day. These guys just ultimately didn't have enough gas to keep the Steelers under wraps for a full 60 minutes.
5. Coming up short
The Ravens can look to their offense for a share of the blame as well. Baltimore reached Pittsburgh territory on all five first-half possessions, and reached the red zone twice, but came away with only six points. They did better with their red zone opportunities after halftime (three red zone drives, two touchdowns and a field goal), but the early struggles ultimately came back to haunt them.