It’s hard to say whether this was the most or least anticipated game in recent Ravens memory, but whatever it was, it sure was interesting. And nearly a win for a decimated Ravens squad! And an end to this dreadful week of waiting! Let’s recap.
The ragtag Ravens offense didn’t do much on their first drive, going three-and-out despite a nice bubble pass to Marquise Brown for five yards on first down.
Luckily, their defense returned the favor, thanks to Marcus Peters making a beautiful recovery to break up a deep shot to rookie sensation Chase Claypool and Tyus Bowser bringing the pain on Ben Roethlisberger to force an incompletion on third down.
The offense was set to capitalize on a fresh set of downs, but Robert Griffin III and Gus Edwards muffed a handoff and gave the ball back to Pittsburgh after a single snap.
The Steelers started off with what looked like surefire scoring position, but two great tackles on the outside by the secondary group kept them from the end zone and forced a fourth down. The fourth down attempt was expected, but the embarrassing turnover was not, as Roethlisberger wilted in the face of pressure and floated an easy interception to Bowser—his second in as many games.
TYUS FREAKIN BOWSER❗️❗️❗️❗️— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 2, 2020
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The defenses, however, were not done trading plays. After only two plays, RG3 threw a pick-six to star corner Joe Haden on a third down stick route to redeem Pittsburgh’s failed red zone possession and put them up 6-0 after a missed kick by Chris Boswell.
And so, the offense walked out for a fourth possession with only eight minutes of game time elapsed. This drive was only slightly more fruitful than the last two, resulting in seven lost yards and a punt. Luckily for the Ravens, this turned into their best offensive play of the day, as new addition, Davontae Harris, forced a fumble on the catch that was picked up by veteran special teams leader Anthony Levine to put the Ravens right on the Pittsburgh five yard line.
Ravens Special Teams Plays— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) December 2, 2020
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Gus Edwards was able to punch it in for six after some gutsy runs by Griffin III and Justice Hill loosened up the stalwart Steelers defense.
The Steelers, likely looking to calm things down a bit, came out looking more measured on their third possession of the game. They got rookie running back Anthony McFarland involved on a few touches to push down the field before chucking one up to Eric Ebron down the sideline with DeShon Elliott in coverage. Elliott went down after the play, which is always scary with his history, but jumped up and trotted back to the field to the relief of many Ravens fans.
Roethlisberger worked the ball down inside the Ravens’ 10 once again, but once again was foiled after his third down pass shot off Diontae Johnson’s hip like a pitch-back and forced a field goal attempt, putting Pittsburgh up 9-7 over Baltimore. (An honorable mention should also go to a beautiful play by Marlon Humphrey to swat a ball away from Claypool in the end zone on second down.)
The Ravens were not able to answer on their following possession, going three-and-out after TJ Watt was able to get past Tyre Phillips—inserted early to replace DJ Fluker—for a sack on third down.
The Pittsburgh offense, yet again, chiseled their way down the field with their signature short passing game, but, yet again, failed to do much of anything inside the Ravens’ 10 yard line and trotted Boswell out a second time after a drop by noted critic of agreed-upon league protocols, Eric Ebron, on third down. The Steelers went up 12-7 with 4:30 left in the first half.
Robert Griffin III brought his offense back out for what they planned on being the last drive of the first half, and three plays later took them 39 yards down the field into Pittsburgh territory on a beautifully executed option keeper.
After a scary play where it looked like he may have pulled a hamstring, RG3 handed off to Justice Hill on a third and nine, who scampered through a few would-be tacklers to gain 19 yards and a first down.
Despite working to the goal line a play later, bad clock management led to the offense somehow leaving the field without scoring any points. The ball was snapped just in time to beat a running clock, but a pass to Luke Willson fell incomplete as time expired. They went into the locker room still down 12-7.
Coming out of halftime, the Steelers got to work quickly, drawing pass interference on Marlon Humphrey in single coverage on Chase Claypool for a 36-yard pickup. That all went away quickly, however, as JuJu Smith-Schuster decided to join the Steelers’ burgeoning third down drop club, and a subsequent fourth down try was smacked out of Claypool’s hands yet again.
The Ravens were moving the ball methodically through their run game and looked good on their first possession of the second half—helped in no small part by an extremely fortuitous roughing the passer call, to be fair. Sadly, DJ Fluker caught a second holding penalty on a would-be first down run by Gus Edwards that killed the promising drive and forced a punt.
Pinned down inside their own five yard line, the Roethlisberger barely managed to get off a pass to Diontae Johnson that cleared the sticks and kept the Ravens from putting two points on the board. The Ravens kept the pressure up, however, and quickly forced Pittsburgh to punt four plays later.
On a rather unimpressive series of plays, the Ravens offense went three-and-out once again. After losing yards on a first down run, they gave TJ Watt his second sack of the game before waving the white flag on third to set up a punt.
After already losing Jimmy Smith early in the game to a groin injury, things got even darker for the secondary on the following Steelers drive. Marcus Peters appeared to twist something in his left leg while tackling Diontae Johnson and left for the sideline a play later after pulling up and seeming unable to put weight on the same leg.
As luck—hah!—would have it, though, he was replaced by Davontae Harris who immediately made a gorgeous play to knock a ball free from the aforementioned Johnson’s hands on a jump ball near the goal line. The effort would be for naught, though, as the Steelers finally cashed in in the red zone with a Smith-Schuster grab near the pylon to put them up a seemingly insurmountable 12 points with 41 ticks left in the third quarter.
It wouldn’t be a Ravens game in 2020 without an illegal formation penalty, and they delivered just that on a crucial third down after getting the ball back. At this point it seems foolish to expect this disturbing trend to go away this season, though some slack can be cut seeing as how the offense was fielding a lot of reserves. Despite getting the yards back on a neutral zone infraction, they still came up short of the sticks and forced Sam Koch to earn his paycheck.
The Steelers offense appeared to be rolling once again, knifing their way down the field through the air and spreading the ball with ease. It looked for a second like the Ravens defense might finally be giving out after a long day, but Ebron showed up again with his patented third down drop play just in time for them to give the ball back to their offense.
This could have been one last chance to tighten the score for the Ravens, but they instead opted to send in backup QB Trace McSorely to ride out the end of the game. McSorely did manage to run for a first down, but the offense was then quickly shooed off the field by the Steelers defense.
After the Steelers gave a halfhearted effort to go three-and-out, it looked like the game was about to wind down. Then, out of absolutely nowhere, Trace McSorely hit Marquise Brown down the sideline for a 70 yard touchdown catch-and-run to bring the game within five with just under three minutes left.
The defense was nearly able to capitalize on the breath of life, but a key conversion on third down followed by another on the next play salted the game for the Steelers. They weren’t really able to pad their stats, as some had hoped, but did manage to pull away from the walking MASH unit that is the Ravens to stay undefeated with sole possession of the number one seed in the division and conference.
While this loss won’t kill the Ravens’ playoff chances, they will need to go on a run here at the end of the season. They don’t face a particularly daunting schedule, but will see the relatively hot Cleveland Browns in what should be a much different contest from Week One. They likely cannot afford more than one loss the rest of the season.
On to the Cowboys!