Steelers still in the playoffs hunt
Wide receiver Santonio Holmes continued to work his magic against the Baltimore Ravens, and a unit that has gone missing in action during critical junctures of the fourth quarter recaptured some of its mojo.
Thanks to Holmes and a defense that made a stand late Sunday afternoon, the Steelers held off their AFC North rivals, 23-20, and remained in playoff contention.
If they beat the Miami Dolphins next Sunday and a couple of things break their way, the Steelers (8-7) will play beyond the first weekend in January. The defending Super Bowl champions could even claim a No. 5 seed, something that would have been unthinkable after they bottomed out Dec. 10 by losing to the Browns in Cleveland for the first time since 2000.
"We're in single-elimination football already in my perspective," coach Mike Tomlin said. "It's playoff football for us already and has been for the last two weeks."
The difference between the team that lost five consecutive games by a combined 21 points and the one that has won back-to-back, heart-stopping contests isn't much, Tomlin said.
"I know that sometimes when you lose, you look for deeper reasons why every week I come up here and tell you it's a play here and a play there," Tomlin said. "I know sometimes that's not the answer you're looking for, but it's really just that simple."
A defense that has been maligned for not protecting fourth-quarter leads came up with the plays that had eluded the group, particularly during the Steelers' first five-game losing streak since 2003.
After the Ravens had driven to the Steelers' 35-yard line late in the fourth quarter, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley sacked Joe Flacco on successive plays.
The second one came on fourth down and caused a fumble that rookie first-round pick Ziggy Hood caught and cradled as he fell to the ground with 2:27 left in the game.
"I think the good thing about it is we got it with pressure and coverage," free safety Ryan Clark said of the stand the Steelers made at the end of the game. "I think the guys in the back did an awesome job of giving 'Wood' and those guys up front time to work."
The Steelers still made their fans endure another white-knuckle finish when Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception on a deep third-down pass. An illegal contact call, however, nullified the play and gave the Steelers a first down.
That the Steelers were in a position to take a knee and run out the clock also could be attributed to Holmes, whose future goals better not include becoming mayor of Baltimore.
Holmes has 30 career touchdowns; eight have come against the Ravens.
The MVP of Super Bowl XLIII tormented Baltimore again yesterday with a pair of critical 24-yard catches.
One set up Jeff Reed's go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter; the other resulted in a touchdown at the end of the first half, which gave the Steelers a 20-10 lead.
Holmes scored after slipping a tackle attempt by Dawan Landry and beating Tom Zbikowski to the right corner of the end zone.
What made it one of the more unlikely touchdowns of the season for the Steelers was that Holmes ran the wrong route.
"I wasn't supposed to be where it was, and (quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) just happened to go through his progression," Holmes said. "I turned to look where his eyes were, and they were definitely on me the same time mine were on him. I think this is the third time I've scored against the Ravens running the wrong play."
One of the other ones, he said, came last December when Holmes made a 4-yard touchdown catch while falling out of the end zone. That delivered a 13-9 victory to the Steelers, as well as an AFC North title.
It remains to be seen whether another close win over the Ravens with Holmes' imprints on it will be nearly as significant.
At the very least, the Steelers have given themselves a chance to make the playoffs.
"It's good to have a heartbeat back; it's good to have a little pulse, to see a little light," Steelers cornerback Deshea Townsend said. "This game is crazy. It's about trying to get on that roll at the right time."
Ward re-aggravates hamstring
Wide receiver Hines Ward's status for the Steelers' regular-season finale in Miami next Sunday is in question.
Ward re-aggravated the hamstring injury that has nagged him since the beginning of December, and the veteran had to take himself out of the Steelers' 23-20 win against the Ravens in the fourth quarter.
"I think when you go out there and you're not full speed or full tilt, you can cause problems out on the field," Ward said.
Rookie Tyler Grisham replaced Ward and made a key catch on the drive that resulted in Jeff Reed's 38-yard field goal with 5:25 left in the game.
Grisham kept the drive alive with a 14-yard catch on a third-and-3 from the Steelers' 43-yard line.
Five plays later, Reed kicked the game-winning field goal.
The good news for the Steelers regarding Ward: He said he planned to go back into yesterday's game at the end of it if the Steelers needed him.
The bad news: Ward can't say for sure that he'll be able to play against the Dolphins.
"He's just beat up," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We'll do the best we can to get him to the party. You know if he's got a chance, he's going to show up for this team."
1:25 -- Time the Steelers needed to drive 94 yards at end of second quarter for a touchdown
1,383 -- Kickoff return yards by the Steelers' Stefan Logan. That eclipses the previous record of 1,306 yards set by Ernie Mills in 1995.
"We like to make games interesting. I don't think we do it on purpose, but ever since I've been here, we've had a lot of close ones. This is the team that I know -- that wins the close ones."
on the Steelers winning a nail-biter against the Ravens.
Steelers' playoff scenarios
Even if the Steelers (8-7) beat the Dolphins (7-8) next Sunday, they need help to make the playoffs. If they lose, they are eliminated. Here's what the Steelers need to happen next Sunday to earn an AFC wild-card spot:
Steelers finish 9-7 and ...
Jets and Texans lose or tie
Ravens and Texans lose or tie
Ravens, Broncos and Jets lose or tie
Steelers finish 8-7-1 and...
Ravens, Broncos, Jets and Texans lose
NOTE: The Steelers' 1 p.m. game next Sunday against the Dolphins at Land Shark Stadium is subject to change because of the NFL's flex scheduling policy.