Labriola On

Labriola on the win over the Ravens

I believe the clinical term for what we saw Sunday afternoon inside M&T Bank Stadium has been categorized officially by the scientific community, and in the future forever will be known as "Ben being Ben." And if it hasn't, well, it should be. After all, there are 18 years of evidence proving its existence.

"Ben being Ben" has taken on many forms since first being observed sometime after 2004 in its natural habitat of an NFL stadium during the fall and/or winter seasons. And while some of the specifics might differ, a true sighting of "Ben being Ben" always includes these two elements: the Steelers win a football game, most usually in a come-from-behind fashion, and Ben Roethlisberger has his fingerprints all over that outcome.

It was fitting that M&T Bank Stadium served as the most recent venue for this recurring phenomenon, being that a decent number of the previous occurrences had taken place on that exact plot of real estate, and it was appropriate the Ravens chose to host former Steelers antagonist Terrell Suggs for the occasion since he had been an active participant in so many of them.

"Ben being Ben" must have stakes, and that was handled sufficiently by the fact Sunday's loser would be eliminated from the playoffs, and then Mother Nature cooperated with a day that was cold, windy, and damp, not that Steelers-Ravens ever really needs anything more than purple vs. black-and-gold.

Complicating things for the Steelers was an early injury to Najee Harris – on the first third-down situation of the game – that effectively robbed them of whatever running attack they had planned to muster against a Ravens defense arriving ranked No. 1 in the NFL in the category. With that, the path was charted for the Steelers offense, and to describe it as a slog would be kind.

The Steelers would cram seven offensive possessions into the first half, plus an eighth that lasted just one snap before halftime, and the statistics told a tale every bit as grim as the images shown by CBS. Seven possessions, four first downs, five punts, one third-down conversion, 82 total net yards, and three points that came via a 28-yard field goal by Chris Boswell as the fruit of a takeaway that allowed the Steelers to start at the Baltimore 39-yard line.

That play itself was somewhat controversial in that it first appeared to be a sack of Tyler Huntley that would be credited to T.J. Watt, who came into the game needing 1.5 to break Michael Strahan's single-season NFL record of 22.5. But because it all began with Ravens center Bradley Bozeman bouncing the shotgun snap off his own butt, it was ruled an aborted play instead of a sack, and while the Elias Sports Bureau will review the ruling, what was confirmed was that Henry Mondeaux recovered for the Steelers at the Ravens 39-yard line.

When a fourth-and-1 from the Ravens 5-yard line became a fourth-and-6 from the 10-yard line after a false start penalty, Coach Mike Tomlin backed off going for it and instead sent Chris Boswell out for an early 3-0 lead.

Things then settled into a typical Ravens-Steelers pattern where ground was gained and lost the way it happened during the trench warfare in World War I. Justin Tucker's 24-yard field goal "capped" an eight-play, 34-yard drive, and it was 3-3 at halftime.

Things stayed in character through the third quarter, with the Ravens beginning to tilt things in their favor with their running game taking advantage of the No. 31 Steelers' run defense. The Ravens took the second half kickoff and drove 68 yards on five plays – all runs – and took a 10-3 lead on a 46-yard sprint by Latavius Murray through for the touchdown that gave Baltimore a 10-3 lead with 12:32 left in the third period.

Another Boswell field goal, this one from 40 yards, kept it a reasonable 10-6 heading into the fourth quarter, and then it was time. Time for the Steelers to make a move or have their season end, and worse have their quarterback's career end. It was time for "Ben being Ben."

The spark that lit the fire of the comeback came from their defense, with an assist from the Ravens play-caller, as in, "You always have a chance. The other team has a play-caller, too."

Late in the third quarter, the Ravens seemed content to continue to probe the Steelers run defense. They moved from their 25-yard line to a second-and-6 at the Steelers 11-yard line all via running plays. But instead of sticking with what was working, the Ravens' play-caller decided it was time to pass. Tyler Huntley followed orders, but he delivered a floater late over the middle and into the end zone. Cam Sutton intercepted for the touchback.

Maybe it was the defensive call that enticed Huntley to think he saw one thing when the reality was something totally different. But that's life in the NFL for an inexperienced quarterback.

Asked about it after the game, Coach John. Harbaugh said, "We could have run the ball there."

But the Ravens didn't, and that set the stage for "Ben being Ben" with Baltimore holding a 10-6 lead early in the fourth quarter instead of the Steelers looking at a deficit of 13-6 or maybe 17-6.

The Steelers were moving the ball nicely on the possession following Sutton's interception, but a facemask penalty on left tackle Joe Haeg cost the Steelers 39 yards of field position – a 24-yard screen pass to Benny Snell got to the Ravens 18-yard line but after Haeg's penalty was assessed the next play was run from the Pittsburgh 43-yard line – and they ended up having to punt. Pressley Harvin's punt pinned the Ravens at their 14-yard line, the defense put together a three-and-out, and Roethlisberger came back onto the field with the ball at midfield.

And he came through. Roethlisberger completed 7-of-8 for 57 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown pass to Chase Claypool. He converted a third-and-9 with a 20-yard pass to Ray-Ray McCloud and converted a third-and-6 with an 11-yard pass to Pat Freiermuth. The Steelers led, 13-10, with 2:54 remaining in the fourth quarter.

"He's the same when everybody else gets funny," said Tomlin about how Roethlisberger reacts in pressure situations. "Everybody else gets a little tight, he's the same guy."

Roethlisberger remained the same when the Ravens moved into position for a game-tying field goal, and maybe he held his breath until the fourth quarter ended, but the Steelers held and got the game into overtime, and after the defense forced a Baltimore punt on the opening offensive possession, Roethlisberger and the offense took over at the 17-yard line.

It was time. If there was to be more to Roethlisberger's storied career, it was time to make it happen.

On third-and-7 from the 31-yard line, Roethlisberger completed a pass to Pat Freiermuth for 14 yards. On third-and-9 from the 46-yard line, he completed a pass to Diontae Johnson for 11 yards. On fourth-and-8 from the Baltimore 41-yard line, he completed a 10-yard pass to Ray-Ray McCloud. Then on second-and-10 from the Baltimore 31-yard line, Harris bounced outside, got a great block from Claypool, and ran 15 yards to the 16-yard line. Tomlin turned the game over to Boswell, who ended it with a 36-yard field goal. Ballgame, 16-13.

"That's Steelers-Ravens," said Tomlin in the immediate aftermath. "I can't say enough about the men in that locker room. Their collective will was on display. It was on display throughout a hostile environment today. Obviously, dire circumstances and so forth. A lot of competition in the stadium. Distractions, potentially on the outside. They were able to process all of that and make the necessary plays to secure a victory. I'm just appreciative of it … And, obviously, I'm appreciative of our quarterback – QB 1. He's been smiling in the face of adversity for 18 years. So even though it's not surprising, it's still appreciated."

Steelers fans should join Tomlin in appreciating "Ben being Ben," because nothing lasts forever. But as a result of Sunday in Baltimore, it's going to last at least one more week.

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