Joe Flacco beat Ben Roethlisberger at his own game and in his own building.
Down four points with 2:24 to play and needing to go 92 yards, the Ravens’ much-maligned quarterback led the defining drive of his young career. It ended with Flacco’s hitting rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the corner of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown with just eight seconds to go to lift the Ravens to a pulsating 23-20 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of an announced 64,851 at Heinz Field.
Smith, who had dropped a potential touchdown pass earlier in the drive, got by William Gay and Flacco hit him in stride, capping the 13-play drive. It was Flacco’s eighth-career fourth-quarter or overtime game-winning drive and his second in as many weeks. The final play also gave the Ravens their 14th third-down conversion, setting a new team record.
Flacco was 28-for-47 for 300 yards and the touchdown, and converted 14 of his 21 third-down attempts in out-dueling Roethlisberger, who thought that he had authored one more comeback against the Ravens.
“This Steelers-Ravens game is for men,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to shine bright to win this game, and no one shined brighter than Joe Flacco.”
The victory completed the Ravens’ sweep of their hated rivals -- just their second in team history (2006 was the other) -- and pulled pulls them into a first-place tie with the surprising Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North.
It also averted what would have been a devastating loss in a game in which the Ravens (6-2) led by 10 late in the third quarter, only to watch Roethlisberger pull Pittsburgh ahead.
Roethlisberger led the Steelers on an 11-play, 80-yard drive that ended with Rashard Mendenhall’s 1-yard touchdown run to make it a 16-13 game with 14:32 to play.
A fumble by Flacco, his fifth of the season, gave the Steelers the ball back, and they needed just six plays to drive 58 yards for the touchdown. Running to his right, Roethlisberger threaded the needle on a pass that just got over the outstretched arm of cornerback Cary Williams; and was caught by Mike Wallace caught it just inside the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown.
That gave the Steelers a the 20-16 lead, but they couldn’t put the Ravens away, giving the visitors the ball back with 2:24 to play. Flacco hit Anquan Boldin for 21 yards and then LaQuan Williams for 13 yards. On fourth4th-and-1 from the Steelers’ 49, he completed a 10-yard pass to Boldin to keep the drive alive.
Smith then got free in the end zone but couldn’t wasn’t able to haul in Flacco’s pass. Boldin also dropped another ball that would have gotten the Ravens down to the 10, but the drops proved a moot point when Smith beat Gay in the end zone and Flacco found him. Gay was called for pass interference on the play, but it didn’t matter.
“For me, it was all about my teammates having the confidence in me and me knowing I can make the play,” said Smith, who had four drops. “For him to keep throwing to me, it meant a lot.”
Said Boldin: “Maybe people will stop putting him down now. We know what kind of quarterback we have. There was no panic with our offense, and I think you saw that. A lot of it starts with our quarterback. He was real poised.”
Roethlisberger, who was harassed into three interceptions, two fumbles and four sacks in the Ravens’ 35-7 blowout of Pittsburgh in Week 1One, remained relatively unscathed for the first two-plus quarters.
He appeared to have It appeared that he found his rhythm on the Steelers’ opening drive of the third quarter, but on first1st-and-10 from the Ravens'14, linebacker Terrell Suggs stepped in front of a pass intended for Wallace.
The interception fueled a 12-play, 71-yard drive that ate up more than six minutes and ended with Ray Rice’s bursting in from four yards out.
Three times, Flacco kept the drive alive with third-down completions, and then a pass-interference call on Ike Taylor gave the Ravens the ball at the 4-yard line. Rice did the rest, pushing the Ravens’ lead to 16-6.
When the two teams met in the season opener, Rice took the first play from scrimmage for a 37-yard run, setting the tone for 60 minutes of domination by the Ravens against their most hated rival.
Two months later, the Ravens again kicked things off with a handoff to Rice and he again broke free on the left side, sprinting 76 yards for a touchdown. However, Rice, who spiked the ball off the back wall beyond the end zone, quickly realized that the touchdown was being called back because of a penalty. Smith, who didn’t appear to have done anything wrong in muscling Steelers cornerback William Gay to the ground, was called for a questionable holdingpenalty, negating the touchdown.
Undeterred, the Ravens engineered a 14-play, 75-yard drive that quarterback Joe Flacco kept alive three different times with third-down completions. He hit Ricky Williams for 11 on third3rd-and-2, He found tight end Dennis Pitta for 23 yards on third3rd-and-6 and He then connected with Boldin for 15 yards on third3rd-and-7.
A pass-interference call against Gay on Smith in the end zone gave the Ravens the ball on the Steelers’ 1-yard line. However, that was that’s as close as the Ravens would get. Flacco threw incomplete to Pitta and Rice was stopped on back-to-back runs. On the third3rd-and-1, Rice was pushed into the end zone by his fullback, Vonta Leach, but the referees ruled that his progress had been stopped and the Ravens settled for an Billy Cundiff 18-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff.
They had a chance an opportunity to expand their lead later in the quarter as they drove down to the Steelers’ 22-yard line, thanks to two more third-down completions from Flacco. He hit Pitta for eight on third3rd-and-7, and then he hit Smith down the sideline for 29 yards on third-and-9. Smith made a great adjustment and out-dueled Keenan Lewis for the ball.
However, the Ravens’ drive stalled and Cundiff’s kick sailed wide right from 40 yards. It was his first miss from inside 40 yards since Nov.¿7 of last year against the Miami Dolphins. It also broke a streak of 32 consecutive makes inside the 50.
The Ravens had the ball for 11:23 minutes of the first quarter and ran 22 plays to the Steelers’ 6six, but they led only 3-0. And that advantage was gone when Shaun Suisham’s kick was good from 36 yards out early in the second quarter. The field goal was set up by a 15-yard completion to Heath Miller and a 32-yard strike to Antonio Brown, who was left alone on the left side. Ravens safety Ed Reed made a touchdown-saving tackle on the play.
Flacco’s success on third down continued on the Ravens’ next drive. He hit rookie LaQuan Williams for 15 yards on third-and-10, and then Pitta for five yards on third-and-5. Cundiff then capped finalized a 10-play drive with a 43-yard field goal.
A couple of possessions later, the Steelers drove deep into Ravens’ territory, helped by Roethlisberger’s 25-yard pass to tight end David Johnson and a 17-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery down to the 7-yard line. But the Ravens’ defense stiffened and Paul Kruger and Pernell McPhee sacked Roethlisberger on third-and-8, forcing Suisham to boot a game-tying 30-yard field goal.
The Ravens had just a minute before halftime to work with, but they got some help when Steelers safety Ryan Clark was assessed a 15-yard unnecessary-roughness penalty for hitting tight end Ed Dickson. It appeared that Clark had led with his shoulder, but he was flagged nonetheless.
A 13-yard pass to Boldin and a 14-yard dump-off to Rice then set up Cundiff for a 51-yard field goal as time expired in the first half. That gave the visitors a tenuous 9-6 lead, but it was not unreasonable to fixate on the missed first-half opportunities and wonder if the Ravens would come back to lament them.
It appeared that they would before Flacco rescued the Ravens and led one of the highlight drives of his young career.