By Teresa Varley
The Steelers once again rallied late for a huge come from behind win, defeating the Baltimore Ravens 13-9 to clinch a playoff berth and win the AFC North Title. The Steelers also secured a first-round bye with the win.
The Steelers didn't lead until there were just 50 seconds left in the game when Ben Roethlisberger hit Santonio Holmes for a four-yard touchdown, the only one of the day scored by either team.
"One thing is consistent, is when we need plays, when we have to move the ball, we have," said head coach Mike Tomlin. "Guys felt the urgency of the moment and didn't want to let their teammates down. They played to win."
A late rally attempt by the Ravens was shut down when William Gay intercepted Joe Flacco in the end zone.
The Ravens got a spark early on when Yamon Figures fielded the opening kickoff at the goal line, but returned it to the 39 yard line. They wouldn't go much further, though. The Steelers defense made their mark early, stopping Le'Ron McClain for a one-yard gain and Willis McGahee for no gain. On third down Joe Flacco's pass to McGahee was incomplete and it was a quick three-and-out.
The Steelers got the ball deep in their own territory at the seven-yard line, where Roethlisberger scrambled for nine yards to the 16-yard line to give them some breathing room. Willie Parker's two-yard gain for a first down was negated when the Steelers were called for a delay of game. Parker got it right back with a five-yard gain, to give the Steelers third-and-one. Roethlisberger went to the air for the first time and found Hines Ward for an eight-yard gain. Roethlisberger went right back to Ward for four yards, but Nate Washington couldn't pull one in on the right sideline. The crowd noise got to the Steelers again when Willie Colon was called for a false start as time was running off the play clock. On third-and-11 Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller, but he came up short of the first down when he was stopped for only a six-yard gain.
McClain got the nod on the ground for the Ravens and responded with four and seven-yard carries. Flacco took it himself for a five-yard gain to give the Ravens a first down. The defense then shut the door, holding McClain to just three yards on three carries and forcing a punt.
Field position continued to not work in the Steelers favor as they got the punt at the seven-yard line and were backed up to the four when Mewelde Moore was called for a personal foul after calling for a fair catch and then throwing a block. Moore rattled off two five-yard carries and added a four-yard run off right end. But on third-and-six Holmes couldn't hold on to what would have been a first down reception.
In what everyone expected to be a defensive battle, it was the Steelers who would come up with the first big play of the game. On second-and-10 Flacco looked for Marcus Smith, but Ike Taylor tipped the pass and Ryan Clark came up with a leaping interception at the Steelers 33-yard line.
Going to work with their best field position of the day the offense got a spark from Washington when he pulled in a big third down reception and broke away from the defender to get the first down on an 18-yard gain. But they wouldn't be able to take advantage of the turnover when Ray Lewis came on the blitz, sacking Roethlisberger for an eight-yard loss to force a punt.
Jim Leonhard fielded Mitch Berger's 38-yard punt at the 11-yard line, hesitating before picking up the ball, but when he did broke loose for a 46-yard return to the Steelers 43-yard line. Flacco got the Ravens in scoring position with a 24-yard completion to Todd Heap at the 16-yard line. The Ravens were able to get to the 10-yard line, but the Steelers stopped them on third down. The Ravens had to settle for a 28-yard Matt Stover field goal for a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter.
Roethlisberger completed a seven-yard pass to Sean McHugh and Parker went off right tackle for two yards to set up a tough third-and-one. Gary Russell surged up the middle for one-yard, and while the Ravens challenged the spot of the ball, it was upheld. Parker went off left end for four yards and Roethlisberger scrambled for a seven-yard gain for the first down. Roethlisberger took it to the air and hit Ward for a 21-yard gain. A holding call backed the Steelers up, but Washington came up with a key nine-yard reception. On third down Roethlisberger hit Miller for 17 yards to the Ravens 16-yard line. The Steelers got to the 12-yard line on a four-yard reception by Parker, but were stopped on third down. Jeff Reed tied the game at 3-3 when he hit a 31-yard field goal with 5:48 remaining in the half.
McClain got a workout with three consecutive runs for a combined 20 yards. Flacco then went to the air avoiding pressure and hitting Mark Clayton for 17 yards, following it with a 12-yard completion to Lorenzo Neal and nine-yarder to Derrick Mason to the 11-yard line. One again, though, the defense stepped up and Stover had to come on for a 26-yard field goal for a 6-3 lead at the half.
The Steelers got the ball to start the second half, but went a quick three and out. The Ravens wouldn't go anywhere either, as Aaron Smith sacked Flacco for an 11-yard loss. Defense continued to be the story of the game on both sides, as they quickly exchanged possessions again.
Roethlisberger and the offense took over at their own one-yard line and went to the air to get out of the hole. Roethlisberger hit Holmes for a nine-yard gain, but he fumbled when hit and Ed Reed recovered for the Ravens at 21-yard line and returned it five yards. The Steelers were able to dodge a bullet though, holding the Ravens to 28-yard field goal by Stover to extend the lead to 9-3.
The Steelers got a huge break when Holmes fumbled a punt return, but Keyaron Fox recovered at their own 49-yard line and returned it 18 yards to the Ravens 33-yard line. On first down Roethlisberger scrambled for six yards and Moore added a three yard run. But on third-and-one, Roethlisberger was sacked Terrell Suggs, fumbled and Brandon McKinney recovered.
Once again, the defense came through, holding McClain and McGahee to three yards each and then Lawrence Timmons breaking up a third down pass attempt to Mason.
The offense got clicking when Parker went off left tackle for 10 yards and Roethlisberger hit Ward for a 30-yard gain. He went back to Ward on third down and he responded with a sliding catch for eight yards at the 15-yard line. Roethlisberger threw behind McHugh then hit Miller for three yards. Roethlisberger and Holmes couldn't connect in the end zone on third down, but Reed closed the gap to 9-6 with a 30-yard field goal.
The Ravens offense came up with some big plays on their next drive, with a 19-yard completion to Clayton and 11-yarder to Mason. But the biggest play of the drive came from the Steelers defense when Timmons sacked Flacco, forcing a fumble. McGahee recovered for the Ravens, but it took them out of field goal range and forced a punt.
With 3:36 remaining on the clock the Steelers got to work from their own eight-yard line. Roethlisberger hit Ward for consecutive 13-yard completions out to the 34-yard line. Washington then got into the act with a 16-yard reception, followed by a nine-yard grab to the Ravens 41-yard line. On second and one Moore took it up the middle for three yards and the first down. Roethlisberger then hit Washington for 24 yards to the 14-yard line and hit Ward at the four-yard line. On third-and-four, Roethlisberger scrambled, and hit Holmes just across the goal line for the touchdown, putting the Steelers up 13-9 and securing the win.