Roethlisberger goes wild again in win over Ravens
What Ben Roethlisberger did with no pressure and all the time he needed in the pocket against the Colts bordered on the ridiculous.
What he did against the Ravens while under constant siege — dirt on his jersey, a limp in his step, his hands readjusting a rattled jaw — bordered on the remarkable.
The Steelers rallied from an early deficit and some Ravens physical domination that tested their toughness, turning a turnover-fueled 22-point second quarter into a potentially pivotal 43-23 win over the rival Ravens on Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Roethlisberger threw six touchdown passes for the second game in a row, giving him an NFL-record 12 in two games.
Not Manning. Not Brady. Not Aaron Rodgers.
“It's like a video game out there for him, guys out there scoring touchdowns left and right,” linebacker Lawrence Timmons said. “It's amazing to see.”
“For Ben to make history is awesome,” said rookie Martavis Bryant, who caught two more touchdown passes.
So much for all those three-point games against the Ravens — six in a row at Heinz Field before this one.
“It means that guys are catching touchdowns and it's fun,” Roethlisberger said of the record.
Transforming two uncharacteristic Baltimore turnovers into touchdowns in less than two minutes, the Steelers (6-3) vaulted past the Ravens (5-4) in the AFC North standings and avenged an earlier 20-point loss in Baltimore.
The Steelers swept a three-game homestand against the Texans, Colts and Ravens — teams with a combined 14 wins. Now, they head into road games against the losing-record Jets (1-8) and Titans (2-6).
Whether they'll be without safety Troy Polamalu (knee sprain) and linebacker Ryan Shazier (ankle) isn't known. Both were lifted before halftime and didn't return. Shazier left Heinz Field in a protective boot.
And on the night the Steelers retired Joe Greene's No. 75 — the first player so honored in 50 years — a player who retired briefly earlier this year, James Harrison, teamed with Roethlisberger to swing a game that looked to be getting away early on.
Harrison had two sacks, giving him four in two games, and — constantly harassing a rattled Joe Flacco — led a momentum-turning switch in physical play during the second quarter that helped force the Ravens errors.
By the third quarter, the Ravens appeared more interested in retaliation and re-establishing its early aggressiveness as Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil drew 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalties only a play apart.
The Ravens, who are “comfortable” playing in Heinz Field, according to coach John Harbaugh, appeared to be just that as Flacco threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith immediately after a 25-yard Jacoby Jones punt return less than five minutes into the game.
With the Ravens still in control early in the second quarter, they overpowered the Steelers offensive line on three consecutive plays to dump Roethlisberger for sacks totaling 19 yards, setting up a fourth-and-39 punt. Roethlisberger hadn't been sacked in seven quarters, a stretch that included his team record-setting 522-yard passing game against Indianapolis.
“Coach Munch (Mike Munchak, the offensive line coach) said, 'Guys, it can't get any worse than it is right now,'” left guard Ramon Foster said. “Our job right then was to flip it. Do we sit there and let them continue to pile it on, or do we step up? And we stepped up. It was the game you wanted.”
But just as the Ravens appeared to be dictating to the Steelers, Brice McCain — beaten on the Smith touchdown catch — grabbed a Lorenzo Taliaferro fumble and returned it to the Baltimore 27. To that point, the Steelers had only two first downs — 32 fewer than in their 51-34 win against the Colts — and, because of the constant pressure, no semblance of offensive continuity.
But everything shifted with the fumble — just as the first game in Baltimore did when receiver Justin Brown fumbled near in the red zone on the opening drive of what became a 26-6 Steelers' loss.
“It didn't start out pretty at all, but as long as we win is all that matters,” Roethlisberger said. “Not only is the defense getting them (turnovers), we're capitalizing on them.”
Roethlisberger shook off a Courtney Upshaw big hit on a play in which Baltimore drew three separate penalties — he shifted his jaw from side to side for several plays — to hit Le'Veon Bell on a 5-yard TD pass.
“I don't think you can bottle the toughness that guy has,” Foster said of Roethlisberger, who went 25 of 37 for 340 yards and no interceptions. “He just took a licking and kept on going. That lit a spark in us.”
The Steelers totaled 376 yards despite rushing for only 55, with Bell held to a season-low 20 on 10 carries.
With the Steelers defense now coming after Flacco on nearly every play, Harrison's pressure caused Flacco to throw a pass directly to linebacker Jason Worilds, who returned it 30 yards to the Baltimore 30. It was only the second Flacco interception in his past nine games against the Steelers.
Two plays later, the Ravens left Bryant open in the end zone on a 19-yard TD catch, and he made an 18-yarder in the fourth quarter. He has five touchdown catches in his first three NFL games.
“It definitely helped me, it kept me motivated to work hard in practice, which I'm still doing,” Bryant said of being inactive for the first six games. “I still have a long way to go.”
Baltimore came back with a 46-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to make it 14-10, but Roethlisberger — so dangerous in the final two minutes of a half — needed only five plays to find the end zone again on a 47-yard pass to Markus Wheaton with 53 seconds remaining in the half.
“Ben is hot right now — he's staying calm and took licks and executed late in the game,” Foster said.
Roethlisberger threw three more touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Steelers kept answering — not just with touchdowns, but with toughness. And it's debatable which was more impressive.