Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, much of the field to cover and less than two minutes to go.
Season after season, this was as close as it gets to an automatic win for the Steelers. For the past two-plus years, however, it was a scenario that guaranteed failure.
So, with their season effectively on the line and the rival Ravens owning the momentum following a length-of-the-field drive engineered by Joe Flacco, Roethlisberger figured it was a time for some revisionist history.
“Obviously, you do not want to be in that situation,” Roethlisberger said. “To get the ball, tied, with two timeouts, you've just got to have confidence. So I told the line and I told our guys, ‘Let's go win it.' ”
Win it, he did.
Roethlisberger led his 20th game-winning drive in the final two minutes — two more than Peyton Manning — and the Steelers beat the Ravens, 19-16, on Sunday at Heinz Field to keep the dream alive.
Maybe it's not an impossible dream, but it's an improbable one: to become only the second team in NFL history to start 0-4 and make the playoffs; only the 1992 Chargers have done it. Many more losses will make it harder, but beating the Ravens at home for the first time in four years gave the Steelers something they lacked a couple of weeks ago:
“We're not in it, not yet,” safety Ryan Clark said after the Steelers put together their best all-around performance since beating the Giants at midseason a year ago. “We still have to keep stacking wins. But we're not out of it. That's the big thing.”
Receiver Antonio Brown agreed, saying, “We've still got to get back in the hunt. Are we back in it? Not at all.”
But, just like the 19-6 win at the Jets the week before, there are glimmers of hope emerging on both sides of the ball.
They didn't turn the ball over. They went 7 of 12 on third down. They got 93 yards rushing from rookie Le'Veon Bell — more than any of their backs had for the whole season — and they had their first 100-yard rushing game as a team in 12 games. They repeatedly forced the Ravens to kick field goals.
“It's the way the Steel Curtain used to win; it's been our formula for the last 40-50 years,” safety Troy Polamalu said, referring to the mix of a running game and a big-play defense.
And the Steelers (2-4) won it at the end, something Roethlisberger hadn't done since leading a game-winning field goal drive that beat the Colts, 23-20, on Sept. 25, 2011.
It was the 28th time — six against Baltimore — that he has led the Steelers from a fourth-quarter tie or deficit to win.
During training camp, he said, “I'd like to think I'm still a fourth-quarter, last-drive kind of guy.”
He was, and for the ninth time in the past 11 games the Ravens and Steelers have played, three points decided it.
Flacco, kept out of the end zone all day, finally put together a touchdown drive that covered 73 yards and eight minutes, ending with his 1-yard pass to tight end Dallas Clark with 1:58 remaining.
Just like the old days, it was too much time to give Roethlisberger, who had earlier put the Steelers ahead 7-0 with a 3-yard shovel pass touchdown to tight end Heath Miller — a play the quarterback lobbied to run earlier in the week.
Emmanuel Sanders appeared to put the Steelers ahead with what would have been a 107-yard kickoff return touchdown, but he was ruled to have stepped out at the 34.
But that was a lot of field to give Roethlisberger, who hit Jerricho Cotchery for 7 yards and Brown for 13 and 11 yards. That set up Shaun Suisham for a 42-yard field goal, and he drilled it to win the game on the final play.
“You have to have confidence, and they want to see the confidence from me,” Roethlisberger said of the decisive seven-play, 39-yard drive. “We need to have all the confidence in the world that we are going to go down and win this game. I think everyone believed it.”
The Steelers are anything but perfect, but Suisham is. He also connected from 34, 28 and 38 yards and is 14 for 14 this season.
“That's my job. I'm happy that I did it,” Suisham said. “It's a big win.”
In any other season, being 2-4 would be a monumental failure for the Steelers. Right now, it almost seems like a major accomplishment given the frustration they felt at being 0-4.
They play the next two weeks at Oakland (2-4), where they've lost two straight in major upsets, and at New England (5-2). And the Bengals (5-2) already seem to be pulling away from the Ravens (3-4), Browns (3-4) and Steelers.
But the way they've improved on both sides of the ball since their 34-27 loss to the Vikings in London is providing the same kind of confidence that Roethlisberger instilled on that final drive.
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley flashed some, too, by putting in the wildcat with Bell at quarterback and Roethlisberger as a wide receiver, the shovel pass and some other gadgetry.
“We kind of all put our heads together and came up with some fun, funky-good plays for us,” Roethlisberger said. “And they worked out.”
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's stats in Sunday's win over the Ravens:
Passing yards 160
Rushing yards 25
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