By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — On a day when the Pittsburgh Steelers defense basically allowed just three points, one would believe that ingredient should lead to a victory.
Not this time. The Steelers fumbled away a possession that led to a field goal and allowed a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown in a 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens Sunday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers made a few plays with backup quarterback Byron Leftwich at the offensive controls, but not nearly enough to overcome a continually long field and stingy Ravens defense. Ironically, it was the club’s defensive players who repeatedly said that they didn’t make enough plays.
“Yes, we could’ve done more,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “We just needed to make a play. Being down late in the game, to get a turnover, a sack-fumble, a pick, anything, a fumble, just to give our offense good field position.
“We had them fighting against a very good defense of talented players all day. We never gave them opportunities to have a short field like their defense did for their offense. So, we lost the battle in that sense.”
The Steelers opened the game on the 20-yard line and quickly changed the field position with a long bomb to Mike Wallace on first down. Ravens cornerback Cary Williams was called for pass interference, and the 42-yard penalty gave the Steelers the ball at the Ravens 38. After a seven-yard run by David Gilreath, Leftwich rumbled 31 yards for a touchdown.
“We were mostly flat on offense,” Wallace said. “Even though we scored the first time we got the ball, that was it. We had the big play downfield, the pass-interference penalty, but we couldn’t make any plays downfield after that.”
The Steelers also started their second possession at their own 20 and followed that on the 12 and the 12, which was a kick return after the Ravens scored on a punt return. The Steelers next possession began at the 31, and then they began at the 21. The final series in the first half opened at the 20, and their initial one in the second half started at the 15.
The Steelers had to drive a long way just to get Shaun Suisham’s 22-yard field goal late in the third quarter, 80 yards in 12 plays and 6:15 to be exact, but that possession — which went from the Steelers 16 to Ravens 4 — needed to end in a touchdown. The Steelers had ensuing possessions begin on their 30 and 25-yard lines, but their final possession started at their 16 with about one minute remaining.
Inside linebacker Larry Foote had a tripping call, and defensive end Brett Keisel was penalized for being offsides or the Steelers would have given their offense the ball back with about two minutes remaining. There was little that Leftwich could do with half that amount of time on the clock.
“It was as tough a game as we thought it would be,” Keisel said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t make enough plays to get a win. They’re a good team, and we fought hard. … It was a tough performance, but some plays can bite you like a long punt return. (But) it was a typical smash-mouth game.
“I’d like to comment on the penalties, but I’m not going to. They made the calls, and we were able to stop them and get our offense back out there and have a chance to win. But it didn’t work out for us. We made some plays, but we just couldn’t make a play to turn the game around.”
Leftwich obviously exceeded everyone’s expectations with his 31-yard touchdown run on the opening possession. But he was less than average in the passing department. Leftwich was 18-for-39 for 201 yards with three sacks, one interception and a 51.3 quarterback rating.
“We just came in, and we didn’t make enough plays,” Leftwich said. “We had opportunities (that) we didn’t take advantage of, and we just didn’t make enough plays. … We just couldn’t get our rhythm. There was a lot of third-and-evens, a lot of third-and-longs.
“We just couldn’t put two, three, four, five or six plays together. We would make a big play, but then we were right back and third-and-nine. It’s too hard to play a team like that when you don’t do much on first or second down and leave yourself with third-and-long.”
Leftwich appeared to be battling some sort of injury in the second half, but neither he nor Tomlin would acknowledge it. It was announced in the press box that he had a rib injury, but that was it. The Steelers also had some in-game injuries that weren’t so nebulous. Running back Isaac Redman suffered a concussion, and defensive end Ziggy Hood injured his lower back. Running back Baron Batch had a foot injury, and wideout Jerricho Cotchery had a rib injury.
Redman had just one carry for five yards, but Jonathan Dwyer led with 55 yards on 12 carries. Rashard Mendenhall started in his first game back after missing four with an Achilles injury and was ineffective. He had 33 yards on 11 carries.
The Steelers defense held the Ravens to 46 yards rushing, as Ray Rice had 40 yards on 20 carries. Quarterback Joe Flacco was 20-for-32 for 164 yards, two sacks and a quarterback rating at 75.5.