Photo Courtesy: Steelers.com
This thanksgiving, I’m thankful for the schedule makers at the NFL for getting this one right. Coming into the game, nine of the last eleven games in this rivalry have been decided by three points or less.
Whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens play each other, the intensity and passion on each play, each hit, always feels like a winner take all duel to the death regardless of the win-loss records or the date on the calendar and thanksgiving night was no different. This was playoff football in November, because the loser very well could be on the outside looking in at the NFL Playoffs come January.
This game for all intensive purposes was the first possible playoff elimination game of the 2013 season. Both teams being 5-6 and with a small chance of catching the Cincinnati Bengals for the AFC North title, needed to win to keep their Wild Card playoff chances alive.
I’ve been on the Steelers aging D all season for not holding up their end of the bargain, but I have to give credit where credit is due, if it weren’t for them the Black & Gold would’ve gotten routed because the offense struggled in the first half.
Aside from Baltimore’s first drive, where Joe Flacco picked on defensive backs William Gay and Ike Taylor, The D implied a bend but don’t break philosophy holding the Ravens to 5 field goals even while giving up 311 total yards. Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau’s D looked very reminiscent of years past holding Baltimore to 1 out of 4 in the red zone.
The offense took longer to get going, putting up zero points in the first half and countless three and outs. In past weeks Roethlisberger looked more and more like a two time winning Super Bowl Champion QB. His second half on Thursday night was no different as he went 28 of 44 passing for 257 yards and 2 touchdowns. He was money on the 13 play, 79 yard TD drive, then threw a great catchable pass to Emmanuel Sanders on the 2 point conversion to give Pittsburgh a shot to tie.
Lost in the drama of the game, Big Ben is now tied with Terry Bradshaw for most touchdown passes in Steelers history with 212. Roethlisberger also got plenty of help from Le’Veon Bell. Bell had 16 carries for 73 yards and a TD to go along with 7 catches for 63 yards.
Think about this. What if Bell’s touchdown where his helmet was knocked off had stood and the touchdown pass to Jericho Cotchery had been the tying two point conversion? I believe the Steelers would have escaped with their fourth win in a row because they had all the momentum to finish the Ravens off in overtime. But games aren’t won and loss on what ifs.
At 5-7, Pittsburgh’s playoff chances are still barely alive with a more favorable schedule than the Ravens. Baltimore’s last four opponents have a record of 24-19-1. Their two key games are against division leaders New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions. The Steelers final four opponents are a combined 21-23-1. Their only big game is at Green Bay, potentially without QB Aaron Rodgers. Pittsburgh would also have a tie breaker against Baltimore with a better record against common opponents, so anything’s possible.