I remember a scene moments after the Ravens lost to the Steelers in Baltimore back on December 5. I wrote it about in my post-game blog, in fact, because it was so memorable and so fitting.
A veteran Ravens defensive player exited the team’s locker room at M&T Bank Stadium and I just happened to be in his path, coming at him from 20 yards away. As we approached one another and made eye contact, I simply said, “Tough one” and he mumbled, just loud enough for me to hear, “We just can’t beat him.”
I saw that player on Saturday night after the game in the locker room in Pittsburgh. He was among the devastated, sitting at his locker with a towel around his head and disbelief on his face. This time around, I didn’t say anything to him.
What’s there to say?
He was right back in December.
The Ravens just can’t beat Ben Roethlisberger.
And that isn’t meant to be a dig at Joe Flacco, who was admirable enough most of the season and enjoyed a career-day in Kansas City before having to face the varsity on Saturday at Heinz Field. As I wrote following the pounding of the Chiefs a week ago: “Joe won’t be seeing the Chiefs next Saturday. He’ll be facing the Steelers. That’s like going from a 6-furlong race to a mile-and-a-quarter.”
Turns out the mile-and-a-quarter race was a little too much for Flacco and the Ravens offense.
But it was just fine for Roethlisberger.
And I can say this with as much confidence as I can possibly have about a subject in sports: Until the Ravens figure out a way to beat the Steelers when it counts, they’re not going to play in another Super Bowl. And that means they MUST figure out a way to beat Roethlisberger.
It’s the Yankees and the Red Sox all over again. Both of those teams go into every off-season thinking the same thing: “How can we be better than (the Red Sox/the Yankees)?”
If the Ravens can’t beat the Steelers, they can’t ever be great.
That’s a fact.
As Saturday night’s game ended, I was down by the area where the teams come off the field. The Steelers bounded up the steps and Hines Ward yelled out, “They wanted us! They wanted us! And they got us! Now, they don’t want us no more!”
Whether or not the Ravens “want” the Steelers is neither here nor there. The fact remains that they’re going to have beat Pittsburgh when it matters at some point in the near future. Ward was right. The Ravens DID want the Steelers. They felt good going into the game. All that was left was to finish the job. And they couldn’t do it.
The hows and whys of Saturday night are very easy to figure out.
Some people who can’t handle the truth will do what they always do: place the blame on the officials. (And for the record, I thought the game wasn’t officiated very well AS A WHOLE, but both teams were affected by questionable calls and despite that, it was a one-score game with six minutes to play.)
Some people who know football will speak the gospel: When you turn the ball over three times in a game you’re leading 21-7, you’re going to lose every single time. When you throw a ball into the arms of your highest paid receiver in the end zone with six minutes to play – trailing by 3 points – and he doesn’t catch it, you’re going to lose most of the time. And on 3rd and 19, when you rush 3 defensive players and let a speedy wide receiver get behind your deepest defensive back, a great quarterback is going to make that play and beat you.
A Ray Rice fumble, a Joe Flacco interception, and a bad snap from Matt Birk that Flacco couldn’t corral all conspired against the Ravens in that epic third quarter collapse. What was a safe, comfortable 21-7 lead turned into a tie game before the quarter ended.
The Steelers didn’t make those mistakes, the Ravens did.
And that’s how you lose.
As Baltimore came to the line of scrimmage after stopping the Steelers on the opening drive of the second half, I leaned over (continued )