Moments after the Ravens lost to the Steelers on Sunday night, a veteran player – who had obviously taken a quick shower – buzzed out of the locker room and into my path as I headed towards the press conference room at M&T Bank Stadium.
I simply said, “Tough one”.
His response, mumbled as if to almost not let me hear it: “We just can’t beat him.”
I assume the “him” was Ben Roethlisberger.
The player beat a hasty retreat out of the basement of the stadium – as did a number of Ravens who scattered quietly afterwards – but those words summed up a wild night in Baltimore.
Once again, for the 4th straight time in a December or January game, the Ravens couldn’t beat Ben Roethlisberger. They battered him, chased him, broke his nose and made life miserable for him all night, but the result was the same as it has been on every occasion he’s faced the Ravens in December or January in his career. Somehow, someway, mysteriously almost, Roethlisberger comes out on top.
For some reason, Baltimore can’t beat Pittsburgh when the games really matter.
This time, though, they clearly should have. It was a contest that lived up to its billing and the hype of a pre-playoff matchup between two neighborhood bullies who despise one another. Blood was spilled, heads were aching and big time players made big time plays. Unfortunately for John Harbaugh’s team, the two final big plays were made by guys from Pittsburgh.
One of those plays, the game changer of all game changers, was made by Troy Polamalu with 3:22 left in the game and it will cause plenty of discussion over the next few days as Ravens fans sift through the rubble of this defeat and question why Cam Cameron would be throwing the ball in that situation (2nd and 5).
Never mind that Baltimore only ran for 43 yards on Sunday night. The down, distance and time on the clock called for running and more running there. But Cameron opted for a pass play and when Polamalu raced in off the edge and knocked the ball out of Joe Flacco’s hands, the ensuing turnover gave the Steelers new life deep in Baltimore territory.
The game was far from done, though, because Pittsburgh themselves had zero running game on Sunday night. To get in the end zone, the Steelers would have to go to the air.
Moments later, an old Ravens nemesis showed up: bad tackling.
Isaac Redman grabbed a short toss over the middle and fended off a lazy effort from Dawan Landry, who had enjoyed a spectacular night up to that point, and Redman then slithered in the end zone for the go-ahead score with 2:58 to play.
Roethlisberger had done it again.
But this time, perhaps, it would be different, as the Ravens offense had plenty of time to engineer either a game-winning drive or a tying field goal that would sent the game to overtime.
Not so much.
After one 4th and 2 escape job on a Flacco to Anquan Boldin pass, the Ravens marched into Pittsburgh territory but were stymied at the Steelers 31 and faced another 4th and 2 situation with the game in the balance. Rather than attempt a 49-yard field goal, Harbaugh elected to go for it, but his gamble fell short when Flacco missed a wide open Ed Dickson 6 yards downfield to the left in wide open space.
And a dagger in the gut for the Ravens, who were poised to seize control of the AFC North with a win and a series sweep of the Steelers.
But it didn’t happen.
It didn’t happen because Baltimore’s offense managed only 10 points. It didn’t happen because Baltimore’s defense – while spectacular most of the night – wasn’t able