By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — As if two Super Bowl rings and numerous fourth-quarter comebacks weren’t enough distinction, Ben Roethlisberger showed why he’s a top-level NFL quarterback, while Joe Flacco is not.
Roethlisberger led a late fourth-quarter drive, 11 plays and 65 yards in 2:21, to key the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 31-24 win against the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday night at Heinz Field.
The Steelers trailed 21-7 at halftime, as the Ravens forced two turnovers and scored two touchdowns, but the Steelers defense forced a Flacco fumble and interception in the third quarter, as well as a Ray Rice fumble, to tie the score. After both teams kicked a field goal, Roethlisberger turned it on.
Roethlisberger fired for 12 yards to Hines Ward on third-and-10 and later in the drive connected with rookie Antonio Brown for 58 yards to the 4 on third-and-19. Several plays later, including an assist from a defensive-holding call, Rashard Mendenhall pounded in from the 2 for the winning score.
“It’s Ben,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “You give this guy an opportunity to snap it, (and) he is capable of producing plays. It’s not always how you draw it up, but he has a no-blink mentality. He is a competitor and a winner, and those guys follow him.”
Roethlisberger acknowledged that he wouldn’t have had an opportunity to make that final drive if the defense didn’t force turnovers and tie the score, but Brown made the play of a lifetime.
“I wanted to make a play, and it didn’t matter if it was as a receiver or on special teams,” Brown said. “I’m very thankful to be part of the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I’m glad I was able to contribute to this great victory. I was hoping to get in there and score, but first of all I had to make the catch.
“I had to get the ball secured, though, and once I did that I tried to stretch it out. I didn’t get there. I stepped out, but I was just so thrilled to be able to make a play like that. Ben put the ball right there, so I had to catch it. I kept my shoulders square, and the ball basically landed on my shoulder.
“Ben really put it out there,” Brown added. “He got some time and made a great throw. I got behind their cornerback a little bit, but the throw was perfect. And I was able to hold onto it. So, I’m just thankful that we got into the end zone after that. It was a big drive for us, and it was all Ben and our O-line.”
The Steelers lost two first-half fumbles, both leading to Baltimore touchdowns, as the Ravens took a 21-7 lead into the locker room at halftime. Shaun Suisham, who made a 35-yard field goal for the go-ahead points, missed wide left from 43 yards at the end of the first half.
The Ravens and Flacco, self-imploded in the third quarter. Flacco and running back Ray Rice fumbled, and Flacco also threw an interception. Those led to 17 points by the Steelers and a huge change in momentum. Steelers safety Ryan Clark had the pick and a forced fumble.
“We didn’t make enough plays in the first half, and they made a few to take a lead at halftime,” Clark said. “But we turned it on after that on defense. We just needed one play by the offense and one by the defense to get back in the game, and we got tons of plays.
“I don’t know which was the bigger play, but they both were huge plays. So, I’m just glad I could make them. … They were big plays for our team, but they were just part of what we did as a team. The offense and defense both turned it up in the second half when we needed it, and that made the difference.”
The Ravens got that back with a 36-yard punt return, but the Steelers defense held with the visitors at first-and-goal to force a 24-yard, game-tying field goal by Billy Cundiff. So, it was 24-24 with 3:48 remaining. And that meant it was time for Roethlisberger to make some plays.
“We really played great defense in that third quarter, but they did the same thing in the first half,” Woodley said. “So, we had to pick it up and took advantage of every situation. We forced fumbles, sacks and an interception, so we did play really well. We stuck together even though we were down.
“So, that’s the main thing. We didn’t hang our heads. We just picked it up a notch and turned up the heat on Flacco. Coach LeBeau really called a great game, and we executed perfectly in the second half. I think James Harrison had three sacks in the second half, so that’s a big-time performance right there.”
Flacco had a short field after the Steelers scored, thanks to a personal foul by Chris Kemoeatu after the touchdown. The kickoff from the 15 was fielded and run to the Steelers 48. But Flacco had two incompletions, was sacked by Ziggy Hood and nearly picked off by William Gay to end the game.
“We got him out of sync in the second half,” Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. “But we didn’t change anything or do anything differently. We really didn’t think he did much in the first half, either, but he was able to take advantage of some turnovers that their defense forced. They really didn’t drive the ball on us too much in the game.
“We felt like we gave them 21 points, and that’s not our game. We usually play a lot better, but we were able to rattle Flacco a little bit in the second half. He’s going to be a good quarterback in this league, but we forced him into making some mistakes in the second half. And that made the difference.”
And with the game on the line, Roethlisberger came through once again.