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BALTIMORE — Joe Flacco’s comments about Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s controversial involvement during a long Jacoby Jones kick return will garner the attention in the aftermath of the Ravens’ 22-20 win over their AFC North rival.
But it was Flacco explaining why he appeared to be more animated than usual Thursday night that struck a chord as the Ravens not only improved to 6-6 to pull into the lead for the No. 6 spot in the AFC but eclipsed the 20-point mark in a game for the first time since Week 5. He wasn’t satisfied with one of the better offensive outputs of the season.
“I was just frustrated, mostly,” Flacco said. “There were so many opportunities out there for us to score points and just win big and put the game away. We didn’t do it, and we left [the Pittsburgh comeback] to happen. That’s just frustrating. When you’re not converting and scoring touchdowns, you’re hoping that doesn’t happen, but in the back of your mind, you’re thinking, ‘Man, this is going to catch up to us.’”
It almost did catch up with them as the Ravens didn’t sew up the pivotal win until Ben Roethlisberger’s two-point conversion pass intended for Emmanuel Sanders fell incomplete with 1:03 remaining in the game. The 22-point outing was their fourth-highest total of the season, but it could have been much more as the Ravens were only 1-for-4 inside the red zone.
The offense put together five drives of 40 or more yards, which isn’t a feat to take lightly when you enter Week 13 as the league’s 30th-ranked offense and are tied for 24th in averaging 20.6 points per game. The production came with the defense not forcing a single turnover to set up the Ravens offense on a short field, though the offense did benefit from Jones’ 73-yard kickoff return that would have been a touchdown if not for Tomlin’s apparent interference along the sideline.
Their six scoring drives — one touchdown and five Justin Tucker field goals — were the most they’ve had since a win over the Miami Dolphins on Oct. 6.
They were 10-for-17 on third down after going 3-for-13 against the New York Jets a week earlier.
And Sam Koch punted only one time, besting his previous season low of three that was set in the first meeting with Pittsburgh.
It was progress — if even just a little.
“I thought we played pretty well tonight, to be honest with you,” Flacco said. “That’s why I was so frustrated. We did so many things really, really well and put ourselves in so many positions to put points on the board and put a lot on there tonight. Anytime you score 22 points, you basically kicked all field goals and you scored on a lot of drives. You didn’t punt the ball, you didn’t turn the ball over. We did so many things well. We were right there. That’s why I think it’s probably a little more animated and so frustrating, because we were just right there. You could taste it, and we just didn’t convert a lot.”
The predictable warts of the Baltimore offense surfaced over the course of 60 minutes as the running game was once again ineffective and several penalties — including three false starts by right tackle Michael Oher — made life more difficult. Flacco was also let down by a couple key drops as wide receiver Torrey Smith struggled to catch the ball consistently after a dominating opening drive in which he caught the Ravens’ only touchdown of the game.
After making headlines earlier this week about his disdain for the wildcat offense, Flacco turned in one of his best performances of the season, completing 24 of 35 passes for 251 yards and the 7-yard touchdown to Smith that followed a 54-yard strike earlier in the Ravens’ first series of the night. His footwork in and out of the pocket was exceptional as he bought himself time and eluded pressure on numerous occasions.
For the first time ever, Flacco and the Ravens got the best of Roethlisberger in a late-season game with major postseason ramifications.
And the sixth-year quarterback didn’t even have to line up at wide receiver a single time.
After so many weeks of needing to say the right things after abysmal offensive performances, Flacco wasn’t interested in patting his offensive teammates or himself on the back too much.
“We just shot ourselves in the foot,” Flacco said. “A couple of catches that we could have made, false starts. On the one that I remember, I rolled out right and tried to hit Torrey on the right side, but we had a guy wide open on the left sideline. We just didn’t get it picked up the right way — little stuff like that. The penalties, it’s not even stuff that you can fix in practice. We’ve just got to be a little better. I’ve probably got to have a little bit better rhythm with my cadence.”
Even with progress offensively that started last week with the reappearance of the vertical passing game — arguably the most critical offensive development of the season — the Ravens will continue to be impeded by their poor running game and inability to consistently use the middle of the field in the passing attack. The expected return of tight end Dennis Pitta for the Week 14 contest against the Minnesota Vikings should help but won’t suddenly transform the Baltimore offense into a top-10 unit.
The schedule also grows difficult after the Vikings game as the Ravens will play three teams projected to be in the playoffs — two of them on the road — to close out the regular season. Baltimore will desperately need to find a way to improve on its ugly 1-5 record away from M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens don’t have the luxury of resting on their laurels and getting comfortable, but if the last two weeks are any indication, their franchise quarterback is beginning to heat up at the right time after several sub-par performances following their Week 8 bye.
With a good — but not great — defense and a one-dimensional offense, the Ravens still don’t look the part of a serious playoff team despite their current standing as the AFC’s No. 6 seed. They’ll go as far as Flacco will take them, however, which means they can’t be slept on entirely.
Beating the Steelers in a game with their playoff lives on the line was a significant step in the right direction.
“It was kind of like a boxing match out there early on,” Flacco said. “There are definitely high emotions, and a lot that goes into this football game. It’s really because winning it means a lot, in terms of the grand scheme of things. We all understand that.”