OLB Harrison's fury on display vs. Ravens
On a night in which the Steelers came within 8 seconds of vaulting atop the AFC power rankings, linebacker James Harrison proved once again that he's among the most-feared linebackers in the NFL.
Harrison, with scar tissue still visible near a mending right eye, played arguably his best game in two seasons. He tormented Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco by consistently collapsing the pocket.
He overpowered the left side of the Ravens' offensive line. He hurdled a blocking back and rushed through the backfield like a tornado, then swept up Flacco like loose debris.
"Whenever you have (Harrison) back in the lineup, it's going to give you a boost," safety Troy Polamalu said.
Harrison was practically unstoppable. His numbers were off the chart - three sacks, eight tackles (three for loss), eight quarterback hits and a forced fumble.
"That's the type of effort we expect from James, because he consistently delivers," coach Mike Tomlin said.
The Steelers appeared on their way to assuming control of the AFC North after Harrison jarred the ball loose from Flacco with 7:40 remaining. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cashed in the turnover by zipping a 25-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace for a 20-16 lead with 5:08 to go.
The Ravens seemingly were facing an uphill climb with only 2:24 left. They were pinned down at their 8-yard line and without a clue how to keep Flacco clear of Harrison's ferocious charge.
Harrison didn't pace himself back into rhythm after missing the previous four games after having surgery to repair a fractured orbital bone near his right eye. Admittedly, he didn't have much left in his tank when Flacco orchestrated an improbable 13-play, 92-yard scoring drive capped by a 26-yard touchdown pass to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith.
"I got winded quicker than I did before I got hurt," Harrison said. "I felt better than I did the first time we played them.
"The eye injury gave me more time to work on my back and heal up a little more. It wasn't too bad, but it is what it is."
Harrison insisted there were no added incentives that ignited his awe-inspiring effort. There was nothing to prove, especially to skeptics who suggest his battle-tested body is breaking down from nine years of heavy hits.
"My motivation is to win," he said in a near-empty locker room. "I don't care how long I've been out or how long I've been in — no matter who is it."
The Ravens finally sealed off every passage to Flacco on their final drive. They weren't going to let Harrison beat them, so they double-teamed and mixed up their blocking schemes to give Flacco the split second he needed to connect with Anquan Boldin on third- and fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive.
Then, on the game-winning touchdown pass, the oft-erratic Flacco stepped up in the pocket to deliver a pass that Smith cradled to give Baltimore a 23-20 victory.
"It's always tough to lose, especially when you're in the position we were in," Harrison said. "When it comes down to it, you have to come up with a play.
"We didn't get enough pressure. Maybe we weren't covering. They didn't really do anything differently. We just came up a play short."