It’s hard for a win to be any bigger than the Steelers’ 23-20 season-saving victory over Baltimore last night.
Pittsburgh needed this win to stay a viable playoff contender, and the fact that it represented the team’s first regular season victory against their hated rivals since 2010 certainly didn’t hurt either.
If anything, this game was a statement about the resiliency of this team, which persevered through a myriad of injuries and what has to be some of the worst luck a team has ever encountered in a three week stretch of football.
When you break it right down, the stuff that’s happened to the Steelers is just downright ridiculous. To have your starting cornerback leave the game with an ankle injury as you’re missing most of your offensive line and starting quarterback? It’s just incredible.
Then you throw in the extremely fluky Emmanuel Sanders fumble and inexplicable Antonio Brown interception, and it’s hard to figure out exactly how Pittsburgh pulled this one out.
It all just comes down to a defense that is clearly the league’s best (all apologies to Houston and Chicago) and a 37-year-old quarterback that is somehow still one of the better backups in the league.
Charlie Batch really deserves a huge amount of credit for his performance. I really thought he was decent last week, and was hamstrung mainly by the running game’s constant turnovers, so it didn’t exactly surprise me that he was able to be even more effective with a second week of starter’s reps.
I honestly believe that if the team had started him instead of Leftwich in the first Baltimore game, the Steelers could be 8-4 right now at the least, and the playoff picture would be very different.
But I can’t complain too much after he went out and did his best Big Ben impression, evading pressure and making big throws downfield for 276 yards and a TD. His interception in the end zone was a bad one, to be sure, but thankfully, James Harrison seems to be back to his old self for the first time this year.
How many times have we seen Harrison make that strip-sack play in big moments, and could he have picked a better possible time to bring it back than when he did last night?
Make no mistake; the Ravens’ offensive line was ineffective all night long, and Joe Flacco’s consistently terrible throws really bailed out the defense, but Harrison and the newly returned Troy Polamalu made all the difference in this game.
Sure, the team lost Ike Tayor early, and forced Cortez Allen into a role that he might not be quite ready for yet, but the rest of the defense was so good that it didn’t matter.
They held the Ravens under 300 total yards, allowing just 78 to Ray Rice, and once again, had the team not turned the ball over, only would’ve allowed a handful of legitimate points.
Part of it was undoubtedly how bad Flacco was; as good as the defense is, they can’t get all the credit for how frequently he missed the poor, perpetually open Torrey Smith. How the Ravens have made it to 9-3 with him as their quarterback really is a mystery to me.
Regardless, Batch and the whole offensive line deserve a lot of credit for keeping him off the field and completely stopping the Ravens from developing any sort of rhythm offensively in the second half.
The offensive line deserves a special mention for its excellent performance, particularly in pass protection, despite the extreme amount of shuffling that’s occurred. I’m not entirely sold on the Maurkice Pouncey-Doug Legursky swap in terms of the run game, but they did a solid job of keeping Batch upright and giving him plenty of time to look downfield against a tough Ravens defensive line.
The only part of the game that aggravated me was the running back rotation. They proclaimed Dwyer the starter, he was effective in fits and starts…and yet they gave Isaac Redman nine of the team’s 26 total carries. I’ve always believed in Redman, but I think Dwyer has earned a look at being the feature back going forward, and his ability to escape a pile really is something special. He deserves to be the starter, and in these next few games, I’d like to see him treated like it.
But that is a very small complaint for probably the biggest win of the season. The Washington and New York wins were impressive, but this was a divisional game that meant everything.
Now the team can focus on getting Ben healthy, taking care of business against a bad San Diego team at home, and preparing for their playoff-deciding clash with Cincinatti in a couple weeks.
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