I said all week that Charlie Batch and the Steelers weren’t going to beat the Ravens.
And he didn’t. And they didn’t, either.
Despite their best efforts to lose the game with some crazy play calling, the Ravens did prevail on Sunday in Pittsburgh as Joe Flacco gunned an 18-yard TD pass to TJ Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds to play and Baltimore pulled out an improbable 17-14 win to improve to 3-1.
Where o’ where are the Flacco haters now?
If ever a quarterback needed a last minute rabbit-pulled-out-the-hat, it was Flacco, who exorcised numerous demons with that last minute drive. It was his first ever win as a professional at Heinz Field and the first time in his 41-game NFL career that he guided his offense to a game-winning touchdown on the final drive.
I tweeted this out as the Ravens took over with 1:08 to play: “This is good, actually, because we now get to see what Flacco and the offense have under the hood.”
It was gut-check time for #5.
And all he did was go 4-for-4 on that final drive, including the touchdown strike that included a perfect pump-fake and laser into the end zone. That game-winning pass fittingly went to Houshmandzadeh, who hadn’t really contributed much in the team’s first three contests. The ex-Bengals WR came alive just in time to collect one pass on the final series, then double-moved his way past Steelers CB Bryant McFadden on the touchdown throw, made perfectly by Flacco into the right corner of the end zone.
The outcome also served as John Harbaugh‘s first win in Pittsburgh as Ravens head coach, a fact that could loom important on a cold winter’s day in January if by chance his team has to return to Heinz Field for a post-season affair with the Steelers. The Baltimore coach wouldn’t ever admit it, of course, but having that tag of “you can’t win in Pittsburgh” isn’t something you want to bring along on the team flight for the rest of your coaching tenure.
Flacco and Harbaugh — on the same day — giving their respective Pittsburgh ghosts a swift kick in the ass today. You gotta love it.
So with all of this love and appreciation for a hard-fought win, now isn’t the time to chastise the Ravens for some mysterious play calling throughout the game. Perhaps the oddest decision of all was a 4th and 3 throw with 2:44 to play that eluded Anquan Boldin, but there were some other real head scratchers on the offensive side of the ball throughout the afternoon.
And now isn’t the time to wonder what MIGHT have happened had Harbaugh elected to kick a field goal with 2:44 to play instead of going for it on 4th down. In hindsight, that move didn’t come back to haunt the Ravens because they won the game in dramatic fashion. But the airwaves and blog-o-spheres would have been jammed with barkers tonight, tomorrow and Tuesday had the Ravens not pulled this one out.
This is, however, a good time to laud the Ravens offensive line, which performed spectacularly all afternoon in support of Flacco. Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda both had terrific days at the tackle spots and Le’Ron McClain was a blocking beast before suffering a 3rd quarter injury that limited him somewhat throughout the remainder of the game.
This is also a good time to high-five the Ravens defense, who stiffened at precisely the right time down the stretch and made the “should they have kicked a field goal?” dilemma a moot point by giving the Baltimore offense a final chance to triumph by forcing a 3 and out in the game’s final moments.
Ray Lewis sealed the deal with an interception of Batch with 32 seconds left…Baltimore’s first pick of the season, if you can believe that. It also turned an otherwise poor 4th quarter for Lewis into a victorious one, as the future Hall of Famer was victimized twice by Batch and Heath Miller on Pittsburgh’s go-ahead drive midway through the 4th quarter. But you know what they say — the cream always rises to the top. And Lewis and the defense rose to the occasion in a big way late in the game when Baltimore’s offense needed one more shot at glory.
Life now begins again for Pittsburgh, who somehow – with a shabby secondary and a journeyman quarterback – managed to squeak out a 3-1 record in their four games without Ben Roethlisberger.
And life in the AFC North looks promising for the Ravens as well, with Cincinnati falling to 2-2 after losing at Cleveland on Sunday. Make no mistake about it, this was a HUGE win for Baltimore, with or without a real quarterback at the helm for Pittsburgh. As the saying goes — “a win is a win is a win”, especially on the road.