By Mike Prisuta
BALTIMORE _ Dennis Dixon earned passing grades in his emergency debut as a starting quarterback, even as the Steelers ultimately came up short against the Ravens.
"I liked his demeanor throughout it all," Coach Mike Tomlin said following Sunday night's 20-17 loss in overtime at M&T Bank Stadium. "He made some plays.
"I thought he represented himself relatively well."
Dixon completed 12-for-26 for 145 yards, with one touchdown, one interception and a passer rating of 60.6 while making his first NFL start and appearing in just his second regular season game.
The Steelers "limited (Dixon's) exposure, particularly early," Tomlin said.
Dixon still succumbed to an interception by Baltimore linebacker Paul Kruger on the Steelers' second possession of overtime, one that was returned 26 yards to the Pittsburgh 28-yard line and helped set up Billy Cundiff's 29-yard, game-winning field goal.
But it had also been Dixon who scampered 24 yards for the touchdown that had given the Steelers a 20-17 lead with 6:24 left in the fourth quarter.
"He was lights out," offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "You couldn't ask for anything more from him
"He was incredibly savvy. I thought when things got hot for him he was still calm. He did a great job of just sticking in there and throwing it when he could."
The Steelers ended up running the ball a season-high 38 times with Dixon replacing Ben Roethlisberger (head) and backup Charlie Batch (wrist) under center.
Dixon completed 8 of 10 first half pass attempts, including a 33-yard touchdown to wide receiver Santonio Holmes that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter.
He was not sacked through four-plus quarters.
"The first couple series I was kind of nervous. I'd be crazy to say that I wasn't," Dixon said. "Playing in a hostile environment like this, a division game, the Ravens, that's always going to be (like) a playoff game, playing against them.
"I just tried to put my team in the best situation possible."
Dixon's previous experience had included completing his only attempt, for 3 yards, during mop-up duty last Dec. 28 against Cleveland.
"We wanted to run the ball, get the ball on the perimeter, let him find some rhythm, get settled in," Tomlin said. "If it meant running the ball on third down when we were in minus territory we were willing to do that. We wanted to pick our spots because we understood the potential for what happened at the end of the game (Kruger's interception) happening.
"We weren't going to play scared by any stretch. We were just going to limit his exposure and hold our bullets until the appropriate time and try to win the football game."
Dixon said he didn't find out he would be starting in Baltimore until Saturday morning.
"I embraced it," he said. "I always love challenges. This is the big stage right here. This is what you dreamed of as a little kid.
"I just wanted to play one snap at a time and put my team in the best position possible."
Mike Prisuta is the sports director for WDVE-FM, the flagship station on the Steelers Radio Network.