By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — There were no onside kicks or any other sleight of hand needed to help the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense.
With a slim, three-point lead to protect late in the fourth quarter, the Steelers’ defense rose to the occasion and stopped the Baltimore Ravens in a 23-20 victory Sunday afternoon at Heinz field.
“It’s huge to stop them the way that we did, and it’s just going to build our confidence going into next weekend,” Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior said. “Hopefully, this effort will carry over, and the other teams will do what they need to do and we can get into this dance. That’s what we want to do.”
The Steelers (8-7) still have a chance to make the AFC playoffs, but need to win their regular-season finale at Miami Sunday and have several other teams lose. But it can happen. And if the Steelers defense continues to tighten, especially in the fourth quarter, anything’s possible.
“We’ve still got a pulse in this thing, and we’ll continue to control the things that we can control,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “(That’s) playing winning football, preparing and doing the best we can.
“And we did that by making enough plays to win. So, we’ll move on to next week and hope we get the necessary help. But we make no excuses or have no explanations. We put ourselves in this situation, and I like the way (the team) is dealing with it.”
The way the Steelers dealt with it against the Ravens was by coming up with a defensive stand in the fourth quarter to keep Baltimore off the board. The Steelers defense had not done that with the game on the line this season.
“I was able to get some pressure, and that helped our defense out a lot,” Steelers outside linebacker Lamar Woodley said. “Other guys finished off plays as well, so we played a lot better this time — especially in the fourth quarter — since they didn’t get any points. We just wanted to finish it out.
“And we were able to do that. We definitely needed this. We gave up fourth-quarter scores pretty much in all the games that we lost, but we didn’t give up any in this game. So, that says a lot about this defense that we were able to put it all together today. This was a big game in that regard.”
The Steelers had the Ravens in a fourth-and-five situation Nov. 29 in Baltimore and couldn’t stop them. Ray Rice ripped off a huge gain, and the Ravens tied the score late and won 20-17 in overtime. Tomlin did not believe that play snuck into the Steelers’ defensive consciousness at all Sunday.
Farrior noted that the Steelers’ defensive players had a singular purpose against the Ravens during that final drive.
“We’ve got to make the stop,” Farrior said. “That’s all we were talking about, and we wanted to make sure everybody communicated and knew what was going on. Then, it was just a matter of executing the defense.
“Woodley did a great job with pressure, and so did the other guys on the defensive line, and Ike (Taylor) got in there. So, it was a good, total defensive effort on our part today. And we held on by making some plays. We stayed strong and fought to the end, and the offense answered anything they did on offense.”
Farrior was especially focused during the fourth-down play.
“I didn’t want anybody to beat me,” Farrior said. “I just wanted to stay deep and not let anybody behind me. I was on Ray Rice. He killed us the last game, and that definitely was my fault. So, I knew where he was at the end there.”
Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison added his thoughts.
“Nothing from that game came back today,” Harrison said. “We just wanted to get pressure on them, and I think we were able to get a little more this time around. (And) anytime you can get a turnover early like Farrior’s interception, you can build on that. So, I think we were able to do that.”
“We have one more game left, and hopefully we’ll win down in Miami and have a couple other things go our way to get into the playoffs. That’s what it’s all about. That’s where we want to be, and that’s where we need to be.”
Farrior’s interception gave the Steelers a huge boost early, but the club only got three points from that. Still, turnovers — primarily interceptions — have been few and far between for the Steelers, so any are appreciated.
“It felt good to get us back on track a bit, especially since we’ve been struggling with interceptions and turnovers,” Farrior said. “So, I got that one, and I think it gave us some momentum.’
Now, if only that could carry over into the Miami game, the Steelers might be in good shape for a playoff run.
The only thing is that it might take a little magic for them to get in.