When the Ravens and Steelers get together, rarely are fans treated to the most graceful performance on the gridiron. The Ravens and Steelers always play hard against each other. The two teams are locked in a fierce and cutthroat rivalry that crowned itself as the premier rivalry of the National Football League through consistently close, blood-boiling matchups. This rivalry would not be this rivalry without the give and take dynamic that the Ravens and Steelers engage in. Punches are exchanged for counter punches, and close wins for close losses. The respectful hate that each team gives the other would not continue without this dynamic. The gritty, hard-nosed football that has come to define the rivalry is what makes it special, and I would have it no other way.
That being said, the Ravens win, albeit ugly and mistake-filled, is still a win.
The offense set an incredible pace early, as it started the game with three consecutive scoring drives. The field goal and two touchdowns put the Steelers on the verge of falling out of the game early, but the 17-7 lead would not hold. The offense collapsed after the early success. Lamar Jackson started to overthink plays, succumbed to pressure, took sacks, and threw three interceptions. One interception should have been ruled back, as Devin Bush never had full possession of the ball, and another interception came on a blatant, yet uncalled, pass interference play. These officiating faults do not excuse Lamar Jackson though. His poor play was directly correlated to Baltimore’s struggles. Jackson completed just 19 of 28 passes for 161 yards on the day, and the Ravens only scored two field goals in regulation after the initial 17 points.
Like the Ravens offense, the Ravens defense started well but quickly unfolded. The defense held Pittsburgh to a three-and-out on the first drive, and new linebacker Josh Bynes snatched an interception on a wildcat play on the second drive. After the early domination, though the defense allowed the Steelers to claw back into the competition. Pittsburgh scored on three of the five drives to close the first half, a touchdown and two field goals. Pittsburgh then scored on two of their three drives in the second half, and if not for the late-game heroics by Justin Tucker, would have won the game.
The defenses’ performance was collectively bad, but key plays made by individual players pushed the Ravens over the top. On a critical third-down play late in the game in the red zone, Matthew Judon tipped a pass at the line, and Anthony Levine made the tackle for a loss of two yards, ultimately forcing a field goal. Josh Bynes pulled down the only pick of the day, and Maurice Canady was all over the field, surprisingly terrific in coverage. The play of the game came in overtime, however, as Marlon Humphrey solidified himself as a top tier cornerback in the National Football League. After the Ravens had punted to the Steelers in overtime, all Pittsburgh had to do was to score a field goal to win the game. Pittsburgh planned to march into Chris Boswell’s striking range by passing to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Marlon Humphrey knocked the ball out of his hands after the catch was made, and recovered the fumble, single-handily saving the day for Baltimore. The Ravens offense moved into Justin Tucker’s field goal range, and the automatic kicker nailed the game-winner.
While this game was a near-perfect rendition of the typical Ravens and Steelers game, it will be remembered for the outside forces that affected the game. The officials made a series of poor calls. The Steelers felt the brunt of some of these mistakes, but it is clear that the Ravens were targeted more often. To name just a few mistakes, the officials turned a Pittsburgh incompletion into a catch, ignored a defensive pass interference on a Lamar Jackson interception, flagged Brandon Carr for pass interference when he never even touched the receiver and gave the Steelers an interception that was clearly dropped.
This game will also be remembered for injuries. Baltimore suffered a series of injuries, as Marquise Brown and Mark Andrews both left the game to return later with an ankle and shoulder injury respectively. Tony Jefferson left the game but would not return. John Harbaugh confirmed after the game that Jefferson would miss the rest of the 2019 season with an ACL tear,and had additional damage to his knee. The scariest situation happened when Pittsburgh’s quarterback, Mason Rudolph, took a brutal hit from Ravens safety Earl Thomas. Rudolph was flung to the ground and his head violently collided with the turf. He was knocked out, and with the Ryan Shazier incident fresh in mind, a terrible feeling of dread permeated through the crowd. Thankfully, Rudolph was able to wake up, and walk off the field with help from trainers. He was replaced by Delvin Hodges, the undrafted rookie quarterback from Samford.
At the end of the day, this was not the performance that Baltimore was hoping to get, but it was the performance they needed to win. Faceoffs with the Steelers will always be rough and merciless, and all that matters is that the Ravens added another win to the record.