Check out the No. 12 regular-season moment in Ravens history HERE.
Before there was “January Joe,” real questions persisted about Joe Flacco’s ability to lead the Ravens to a Super Bowl.
His rookie season brought encouraging signs and easily cleared the low bar of the Kyle Boller era, but Flacco was mostly along for the ride as a terrific defense and a bruising rushing attack led the 2008 Ravens to an AFC Championship game appearance. His play took a substantial step forward in the 2009 regular season, but a Week 17 hip injury severely hampered him in January as he threw three interceptions and no touchdowns in two playoff games.
Even the start of the 2010 season was rough as Flacco threw five interceptions over the first two games, making a Week 4 trip to Pittsburgh feel like a pivotal test in the third-year quarterback’s development. Winless at Heinz Field since 2006, the Ravens were taking on a Steelers team that was 3-0 despite backup quarterback Charlie Batch filling in for the suspended Ben Roethlisberger. If Baltimore couldn’t come away with a win in Pittsburgh this time around, you wondered when it would ever happen for Flacco and third-year head coach John Harbaugh.
But anything can go in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry as a defensive struggle ensued.
With the Ravens trailing 14-10 after a Rashard Mendenhall touchdown run midway through the final quarter, Flacco had the opportunity to make his mark and quiet his doubters. Thanks in large part to completions of 21, 11, 10, and 11 yards, the Ravens had two shots from the Pittsburgh 2 to take the lead with less than three minutes to play.
On third-and-goal, Flacco’s pass to a blanketed Derrick Mason was broken up at the goal line. After a timeout, the Baltimore quarterback then threw incomplete to Anquan Boldin, turning the ball over on downs with 2:40 left and only one timeout remaining. Flacco and the Ravens looked like they would come up short in Pittsburgh yet again.
But instead of sulking over the offense’s inability to put the ball in the end zone, the Baltimore defense stuffed Mendenhall on three consecutive runs to force the Steelers to punt from their own 3. A Pittsburgh holding penalty on Daniel Sepulveda’s 47-yard punt gave the Ravens possession at the Steelers’ 40 with 1:08 remaining. It was the latest miscue in a mistake-prone game for Pittsburgh that included two missed field goals by Jeff Reed to keep the Ravens within striking distance.
If not now, then when?
Flacco connected on three straight passes to put the ball on the 18 with 37 seconds remaining. On the next play with Ray Rice and Todd Heap picking up a blindside blitz perfectly, Flacco pumped and hit veteran wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh in stride in the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Houshmandzadeh — the former Cincinnati Bengal who had just joined the Ravens a few weeks earlier — saluted a stunned Pittsburgh crowd while the normally stoic Flacco pumped his fist in celebration.
The Ravens defense finished it off with a Ray Lewis interception on the Steelers’ next play from scrimmage to give Flacco and Harbaugh their first win in Pittsburgh.
Of course, the moment didn’t transform the young quarterback into “January Joe” overnight as Flacco would experience some more hiccups and the Ravens would suffer another crushing playoff defeat at Heinz Field a few months later. But the touchdown to Houshmandzadeh showed what the Delaware product could do in a critical moment against the toughest of opponents on the road.
“I think there are going to be a lot of defining moments for Joe, but this is going to be one of them,” Harbaugh said after the dramatic 17-14 win to improve his team’s record to 3-1 on the season. “This is going to be one that all the Ravens fans are going to remember for a long time.”
The best was yet to come.