Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: Ravens outlast Steelers to win weird game in OT
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens don’t hide their hatred for one another in their AFC North rivalry.
In this one, there was nowhere to run or hide.
The Steelers overcame the loss of their starting quarterback after Mason Rudolph suffered a scary concussion that left him knocked out cold, only to rally behind the most unlikely backup.
The Ravens overcame three interceptions and two lost challenges to force overtime.
That’s when things got really weird.
First, the Steelers won the coin toss, only to make the unusual decision to defer. It worked, as they stopped the Ravens. Then it blew up, as JuJu Smith-Schuster fumbled and the Ravens recovered in Steelers territory.
“We can’t play the field-position game,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin warned, “and expect to win it.”
And they didn’t, as Justin Tucker converted a 46-yard field goal with 5 minutes, 26 seconds left in overtime to give the Ravens a 26-23 victory.
1. What the wildcat?
The Ravens allowed 500-plus yards in each of the past two games, but the Steelers relied on short throws and the wildcat formation in their first two series.
That proved disastrous when Jaylen Samuels, on first-and-10 from the 12, faked a handoff and rolled right with linebacker Matthew Judon in pursuit.
Samuels threw an ill-advised pass intended toward the visiting sideline for James Washington that was intercepted by middle linebacker Josh Bynes at the Steelers 15.
The Ravens used a Lamar Jackson scramble and a Mark Barron holding penalty to turn a first-and-20 at the 25 into a first-and-10 at the 11.
And that wasn’t the Steelers’ worst play.
On second-and-3 at the 4, Jackson was flushed out of the pocket and rolled right toward the Steelers’ sideline. T.J. Watt was in hot pursuit, but Jackson dropped him with a stiff-arm before throwing the ball away.
That didn’t stop Stephon Tuitt from pushing Jackson on the sideline, drawing a flag for roughing the passer. Two plays later, Mark Ingram ran for a touchdown to give Baltimore a 10-0 lead at 4:48 of the first quarter.
Yes, the Ravens turned a turnover into a touchdown.
2. Gun safety
It wasn’t until their third offensive series that the Steelers put Mason Rudolph in the shotgun, which he operated out of at Oklahoma State.
Maybe offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner realized he should put his faith in the 2018 third-round pick over a college-oriented gimmick such as the wildcat.
The Steelers mixed James Conner runs with Rudolph passes of 21 yards to James Washington and a 35-yard touchdown pass to Smith-Schuster, who shed the attempted tackle of cornerback Marlon Humphrey to cut it to 10-7.
Suddenly, the Steelers were back in the game.
The Ravens took advantage of their athletic tight ends, with an 11-yard pass to Hayden Hurst and a 24-yarder to Mark Andrews to set up Jackson’s 11-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown for a 17-7 lead.
But the Steelers defense stopped the Ravens after that, coming up with a pair of interceptions.
On third-and-11 at the 11, safety Kameron Kelly picked a pass tipped by Minkah Fitzpatrick at the Baltimore 16. But Rudolph was sacked on third down for a 13-yard loss, so the Steelers settled for a Chris Boswell 41-yard field goal that cut it to 17-10 with 4:39 left in the half.
Jackson was picked again, this time by nickel corner Mike Hilton, at the Baltimore 25 with 33 seconds left. Once again, they got a field goal as Boswell made a 29-yarder as the second quarter expired to cut it to 17-13 at the half.
The Steelers turned two turnovers into six points, just like they did at San Francisco. They had to hope it wouldn’t burn them like it did in their loss to the 49ers.
4. From bad to worse
On fourth-and-6 at the Steelers 49, the Ravens lined up to go for it.
Then left tackle Ronnie Stanley popped up out of his stance and pointed to the Steelers, who were flagged for a 5-yard neutral-zone infraction by inside linebacker Devin Bush.
On fourth-and-1, Jackson fumbled the snap, but the ball bounced into his hands and he was able to sneak for a 1-yard gain and first down.
On the next play, Jackson threw downfield to tight end Nick Boyle, who appeared to make a leaping grab. But the ball glanced out of his hands and into Bush’s, and he held onto it for another interception at the 13.
Just as fast as the bad went to good, the good went to bad.
On third-and-11, Rudolph stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure, then rolled to his left and flung a pass to Washington for a 26-yard gain.
But Baltimore safety Earl Thomas belted Rudolph with a helmet-to-chin hit that knocked the quarterback out cold and sent the Steelers into a panic.
As Rudolph lay motionless, Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva waved frantically to the sidelines. Smith-Schuster fell to the ground. Ravens players took a knee.
Rudolph’s facemask was removed from his helmet.
A cart and stretcher were brought onto the field, but Rudolph was able to sit up and, eventually, walk off with the assistance of linemen Zach Banner and B.J. Finney.
With Ben Roethlisberger out for the season with an elbow injury and Rudolph out with a concussion, the Steelers were down to their last active quarterback.
They made a duck call.
5. Quack, quack
The Steelers had no choice but to play Devlin Hodges, the FCS record-setting quarterback from Samford and national champion duck caller who was their training camp sensation.
Hodges benefited from a defensive pass interference penalty but, on third-and-8, found Diontae Johnson for a 13-yard pass. Johnson fumbled out of bounds, but the Ravens lost a challenge.
That’s when the Steelers went back to their bag of tricks.
They lined up in the wildcat, with Samuels taking the snap and flipping it to Johnson. Johnny Holton came around for a reverse but cut back for only a 4-yard gain.
Hodges found Vance McDonald for a 14-yard pass to the 1, setting up James Conner’s touchdown for a 20-17 lead.
Baltimore responded with a field-goal drive to tie the score on Tucker’s 26-yarder, but the Steelers pinned the Ravens at their 1.
Boswell booted the go-ahead field goal from 33 yards for a 23-20 lead with 2:37 left, but Tucker answered with a 48-yard field goal with 10 seconds left to force overtime.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .