By John Perrotto
James Harrison missed four weeks but he didn’t miss a beat.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers suffered a stinging 23-20 last-second loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night at Heinz Field, they could at least feel good about the play of their star linebacker.
Harrison had three sacks and eight solo tackles, both games high, after missing the previous four games with a broken eye socket suffered in a loss at Houston on Oct. 2.
He also had six quarterback hurries and one forced fumble.
It would have been considered a pretty amazing performance by most players, especially considering the length of the layoff and severity of the injury. However, Harrison is such a high-level performer that coach Mike Tomlin and his teammates were not surprised.
“That’s the type of effort we expect from James because he consistently delivers it,” Tomlin said. “He’s a special player and a special man. We are glad that he’s healthy and playing for us again.”
The Steelers played without two of their four starting linebackers as LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and James Farrior (thigh) sat out. Thus, Harrison’s return provided a lift to a unit that played well until the Ravens mounted a game-winning 92-yard drive in the final minutes.
“He’s an MVP-type player,” said Lawrence Timmons, the Steelers’ only other healthy starting linebacker. “He’s huge. He gives us a lot of energy on our defense. You saw that tonight. He played well.”
Harrison said he was not hesitant about reinjuring his eye socket and that he felt confident the Steelers’ doctors were correct when they gave him clearance Friday to play. His biggest concern was his conditioning.
“I wasn’t able to do a whole lot while I was out,” Harrison said. “I felt myself getting winded at times but it wasn’t too bad. I actually felt pretty strong.”
Harrison also had two back operations during the offseason and the time off helped him heal.
“It’s definitely the best I’ve felt all year,” Harrison said.
However, Harrison wasn’t able to enjoy his return because the Steelers had their four-game winning streak snapped and fell to third place in the AFC with a 6-3 record. The Ravens and Cincinnati are tied for first at 6-2 and the Steelers visit the Bengals this upcoming Sunday. The Ravens hold the tiebreaker over the Steelers for the division title as they swept the season series, also winning 35-7 in the opener at Baltimore.
The Steelers seemed in position to win as they led 20-16 when Tomlin eschewed a field goal attempt that could have pushed the lead to seven points. He instead decided to punt on fourth down from the Baltimore 30. Jeremy Kapinos pinned the Ravens at their 8 with 2:24 to go.
However, the Ravens were able to drive nearly the length of the field in 13 plays with Joe Flacco throwing a 26-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds left for the winning score.
“My motivation is to win, not having good statistics,” Harrison said. “I can’t be happy about this game when we lose. It’s disappointing