Words: Kyle Simpson
Baltimore, MD – Frustration. It’s the only word that can really come to mind when describing Sunday afternoon’s match up between the Ravens and Steelers, ending in a 23-20 victory for Pittsburgh in the final three seconds of the game.
Going into the game, the general buzz among Ravens fans was that Steelers’ quarterback Ben Rothelisberger was ruled out and that the Steelers ended up starting their third string quarterback Charlie Batch who had an overall 5-3 record starting for the Steelers going into Sunday’s game. Considering the third string start with the 15-game home win streak and the 14-straight divisional wins; this game was shaped up as an easy win for the Ravens.
And it looked that way for the first half. The Ravens played fairly well, limiting Pittsburgh to only two field goals and got two of their own on top of a 31-yard touchdown pass to Ravens’ receiver Anquan Boldin after Steelers receiver Antonio Brown threw an interception to Ravens’ corner-back Corey Graham on a trick play. Going into half time with a 13-6 lead, the Ravens were confident. It all went sour in the second half though.
The Steelers redeemed their offensive showing in the first half (only 93 yards total) with a 73-yard drive for a 16-yard touchdown run by Jonathon Dwyer to tie the game at 13. Thanks to an inexplicable fumble by Steelers’ receiver Emmanuel Sanders to give the Ravens the ball back at their own 37, Ravens’ QB Joe Flacco was able to drive down the field and get seven points on a 34-yard run by Ravens’ running-back Ray Rice (not as impressive as the “Hey Diddle Diddle” play the week before, but good enough). The Steelers took the ball back and immediately drove down in scoring range to tie the game up again. Ravens’ safety Ed Reed would not allow that to happen, though. After miraculously intercepting the ball and running it back about 30 yards, Reed had given Flacco and the offense the chance they needed to get a two possession lead over the Steelers with a little over 10 minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
But Reed’s effort was wasted as Flacco was strip sacked by Steelers linebacker James Harrison on third and five to give the Steelers the ball back on the Ravens 27 yard line. With 7:24 left, Batch connected with Steelers’ receiver Heath Miller with 7:24 left in the game. The Ravens ended up punting the ball away to never get it back. The Steelers ran the clock down and scored the game winning field goal as time expired. The third string quarterback that everybody thought would hand the Ravens their playoff-clinching victory ended up out-playing Flacco and handing their first home loss in two years. “We were disappointed by our first loss at home in two years, that’s tough.” commented coach John Harbaugh at his press conference yesterday, “But now it’s our job to start a new streak, and that’s what will be our goal going forward.”
After the game many people were calling for Flacco’s head. Saying that he is not a good quarterback, that he was the full and only reason for the loss. While I will give the angry hoard of Flacco-hating fans that he had a bad game (16 for 34 on pass attempts and an ugly interception throw out of desperation), it is not his fault that the Ravens lost that game. Yes, he fumbled the ball. No, he was not playing smart football. I encourage those fans that would rather have Flacco’s head on a stake than have him start another game to ask themselves: is it REALLY all his fault? The Raven’s offensive line is a surprise every week these days. There is only so much Flacco can do when the defense is in his face the entire game because the offensive line gets beat like a drum on a regular basis. There were also multiple occasions when Flacco would put the ball in the receiver’s hands and it would still end up on the ground. Cam Cameron also must take part of the blame. His play calling is uninspired, predictable, and lacks any creativity on his part. Is this some sort of argument to say Flacco is off the hook for the loss? No, he made poor decision after poor decision and got sacked multiple times when he should have thrown the ball away and it is time for him to start playing like the elite quarterback he claims he is.
But one bad game on his part is not enough of a reason not to re-sign him like some fans want. He has led the Ravens to four winning seasons and the same number of trips to the playoffs the last four years, and has a good shot this year of doing the same. Flacco is all the Ravens have. There are too many other holes to fill with draft spots without worrying about replacing our quarterback; holes such as the offensive and defensive lines and buffing up the linebacker corps to try and add speed to the pass rush; which has been noticeably absent since Terrell Suggs tore his Achilles tendon last April. Not to mention fill the hole that will be left by the aging Ray Lewis if and when he retires.
Until the day that Flacco plays consistently bad and the Ravens hold a losing record, I stand by him as Baltimore’s quarterback.
As it stands now, the Ravens hold a two game lead over the Steelers in the AFC North, but fall three games behind the Houston Texans and into the number three seed in the conference as the New England Patriots win the three-way tie between themselves, Baltimore, and Denver. With four games left in the regular season, the Ravens are still in control of their destiny going forward despite the minor bump in the road.