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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Steelers Take Control of AFC North With Win over Baltimore

Yes, yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers improved to 3-1 to take the AFC North lead. But, not all was good in Pittsburgh last night. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looked pretty good on his first drive of the game, right after his defense forced Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens to a three and out. Big Ben led the Steelers 45 yards down the field on 11 plays, and Jeff Reed split the uprights from 49 yards out. But, the rest of the first half looked pretty ugly for the offense. Their second drive ended in an interception caught by defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. In the final 15:29 seconds of the first half the Steeler offense went -3 yards, and all three of their drives ended with Mitch Berger punts.

I guess it's a good thing Joe Flacco, and the Baltimore offense had trouble getting anything started on offense, too.

The Raven offense started off ugly as Flacco fumbled the ball on the first snap of the game. He did manage to recover the ball, but went -6 yards on their first two drives of the game. A Matt Stover field goal with just over 5 minutes to play in the opening quarter tied the game at 3 a piece. It looked like the game may be 3-3 at the end of regulation. But, Flacco and FB Le'Ron McClain, who had to step it up after RB Willis McGahee left the game with an injury, led the Ravens down the field early in the second quarter for a Stover 20-yard field goal. Then, late in the same quarter Baltimore scored again. This time, Flacco threw his only TD pass of the evening with a 4-yard lob to TE Daniel Wilcox, and the Stover extra point put the Ravens ahead 13-3.

Roethlisberger failed to score with seconds left in the half, and went into the locker room down ten points to the then 2-0, Division rivals.

With star RB, Willie Parker inactive for the game, rookie RB Rashard Mendenhall stepped in to make his first career start. Mendenhall ran for 30 yards on 9 carries, and just one catch for six yards before leaving the game with a fractured shoulder. Both Mendenhall, and starting right guard for Pittsburgh, Kendall Simmons, will be placed on the injured reserve, ending their season. Simmons suffered a torn achilles, which may take some time to heal. Former Minnesota Vikings RB Mewelde Moore, who has been doing some kick returning for the Steelers this season, may have to make his first start at RB with Pittsburgh next week if Parker still can't go.

This, of course, is very bad news. Another blow to the already poor offensive line, which gave up three sacks in the OT win. I have yet to mention the injury to the third-string RB Carey Davis. Davis suffered an ankle injury shortly after replacing the rookie Mendenhall, and even if he is able to play next week, he obviously won't be 100 percent.

The good news?? Well, even after running for just 2.5 yards a carry (28 attempts for 69 yards throughout the entire game), and picking up just three first-half first downs (11 total), the Steelers came out winners.

Yes, that's right. Roethlisberger started half number two a little shaky, just like the entire first half. But on their third drive of the half, managed to finally get into the end zone on a connection between Roethlisberger and play-maker Santonio Holmes. The play was fueled by an earlier mistake committed by Jarret Johnson who was flagged 15 yards for yet another unsportsmanlike conduct. The mistake kept the Steelers alive, and Big Ben stayed calm as he threw the 38-yard bomb. Flacco made his first critical mistake two plays later on a fumble deep inside their own territory. Second-year LB Lamarr Woodley scooped the ball up and walked 7 yards for a second touchdown. Reed's extra point gave Pittsburgh the 17-13 lead, and the momentum had suddenly shifted.

Pittsburgh's tight defense shut the Ravens out in the third quarter. But even after another Reed field goal (19-yarder) put the Steelers ahead 7, they weren't able to put the game away just yet. "Joe Cool" ran back onto the field looking to plead his case as the Ravens' franchise QB, and I'm pretty sure coach John Harbaugh heard him loud and clear. The University of Delaware alumnist conducted a five minute, 76-yard scoring drive in just 9 plays. His wonderful performance was capped by a two-yard run for McClain. 20-20.

Neither teams were able to score in the last four minutes of regulation, and the game headed to overtime, where Baltimore won the toss and, of course, elected to receive the kick first. Pittsburgh's D came up big again, and quickly forced a Baltimore punt, and Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field to set up a potential game-winning field goal attempt by the seven-year veteran. Reed, of course, kicked it through the uprights, just barely though. Steelers win 23-20 in a hard fought, smashmouth football game. Just like I suspected.

Top performers:

BAL Derrick Mason- 8 rec, 137 yards, 0 TD

PIT Santonio Holmes- 3 rec, 60 yards, 1 TD

BAL Ray Lewis- 13 tackles (7 solo)

PIT James Harrison- 11 tackles (6 solo), 2.5 sacks

Let's all just hope Andre Frazier can walk again, and soon. Frazier suffered a spine injury on the opening kickoff. Hopefully he and "Fast Willie" will be back on that field soon.

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