When trying to decipher what appeared to be headed towards a Baltimore Ravens win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, into a heartbreaking loss, you only have to look at the difference between the first and second half statistics.
The Baltimore Ravens held a 13-3 lead late in the first half and appeared to be turning a slow start into a fourth straight win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite the Steelers kicking a field goal in the first half's final minute, the Ravens seemed to be the better team and on their way to sweeping Pittsburgh for the second straight year.
In addition, the team's 15 game win streak looked to be extended as well as their perfect record in the AFC North. A win would have clinched a playoff spot and had the Cincinnati Bengals lost tot eh San Diego Chargers, the division title would have been wrapped up with four games remaining.
Not so fast, Ravens fans. No one told the Steelers to lay down and grovel at the feet of the mighty Ravens. Down to their third-string quarterback and fresh off an eight turnover performance in losing ot the lowly Cleveland Browns, no one expected Pittsburgh to win, much less give the Ravens a tough game as has happened so consistently in this series.
In fact, the Las Vegas odds-makers had made Baltimore a 7.5 point favorite, the biggest odds between these two teams for a long, long time. However, as the Ravens learned only two weeks before, it never seems to matter what the team's records are, nor what the names are on the back of the jerseys or who is standing under center, these games are just too close to call just about every single year.
This time, Baltimore faced a 37-year old QB who hadn't thrown a TD pass in something like four years and seemed to be a sitting duck for the Ravens newly-powerful pass rush. Unfortunately, as mentioned before, no one must have told the Steelers.
Charlie Batch looked like an All-Pro QB and led the Steelers back from a ten-point deficit and calmly drove the Steelers downfield for most of the second half like a calm, clutch QB, culminating in a last second field goal that won the game, 23-20 for Pittsburgh. His stats line dwarfed his more-heralded counterpart on the Ravens, as Joe Flacco had what was easily his worst home game performance in the past two years.
To try to determine what happened and when, just take a look at the comparison between the first and second halves of what was essentially two completely different games.
As a team, the Ravens dominated the game's first 30 minutes, winning on the scoreboard (13-6) as well as the time of possession battle (15:52-14:08). The second half time of possession battle was overwhelmingly in the Steelers favor (20:00-10:00).
Looking at the two team's total yardage, you can see how the second half changed the flow of the game. While only gaining 93 total yards in the first half, Pittsburgh exploded for 273 in the 2nd half. Conversely, Baltimore put up 191 yards in the game's first 30 minutes, but could only manage a paltry 97 in the entire second half.
The difference in first downs explains the time of possession and yardage differences, as the Ravens had 13 in the first half while Pittsburgh only managed five, but reversed the trend in the 2nd half, getting 14 first downs while limiting the Ravens offense to only six.
The two quarterbacks defined the turnaround from one half to the other. While neither looked especially good in the first half, Joe Flacco looked better, completing 11 of 22 for 134 yards and Charlie Batch only completed nine of 16 for 57 yards. Their QB Ratings were virtually identical (Flacco: 65.3 / Batch: 63.8).
It was the second half where their comparison couldn't have been much more opposite. Flacco could only complete five of 12 passes for an embarrassing 54 yards to finish with a final stats line of 16-34 for 188 yards and a QB Rating of a lowly 61.9. On the other hand, Batch broke out of his four year "slump" by completing 16 of 20 passes for 219 yards. His final numbers were 25-36 for 276 yards and QB Rating of an impressive 89.6.
It's no wonder that while the Ravens seemed to have the game in hand as late as the fourth quarter, the lack of the offense to extend their drive and hold onto the ball, along with the defense's inability to pressure and shut down an aging, washed up QB, added up to a heartbreaking last second loss that halted a bevy of winning streaks for the Ravens and derailed their chance to celebrate the win, sweep of the Steelers for a second straight year and a fifth-straight playoff appearance.