8:31 p.m.: First NFL snap for Dennis Dixon (and Ramon Foster as a starting guard), and it's a run. Who didn't see that coming? By the way, newly signed Rocky Boiman was on the kick-return team; Corey Ivy said last week he wasn't on any first-team special teams, but we'll see. . . 8:34 p.m.: Safe call for Dixon's first pass play, it's just that the kid has to learn to pump or toss around high-leaping buildings known as NFL pass rushers. . . 8:38 p.m.: So when did Joe Flacco become Joe Namath? . . . 8:39 p.m.: The unit that the Steelers desperately needed to stand firm for them tonight -- the No. 1-ranked defense -- turned shakey after the first two snaps. Not a good sign. As one wag put it: Could a one-touchdown Ravens lead prove insurmountable for the offensively challenged Steelers? Third-and-goal, Bawlmer. . . 8:41 p.m.: James Farrior and Chris Hoke lay in his wake as defensive tackle Haloti Ngata powers the way as a lead blocker for Willis McGahee to walk into the end zone. Ravens, 7-0. Flacco was 5-for-5 for 50 yards on the drive. . . 8:47 p.m.: Nice start to this Steelers drive, after NBC cameras caught Dixon heaving a sigh on the sidelines after that Ravens touchdown. You can run on these Ravens, and the Steelers have thus far. But sooner or later, Dixon will have to throw downfield. . . 8:49 p.m.: Dixon's dandy run, all the way down to the Ravens' 24-yard line (a 31-yard gain), was negated by a holding penalty. But that gave not only you a glimpse of Dixon's speed, but the Ravens as well. They won't want to give him any lanes from here on it. So it'll be interesting to see if he tucks and runs some more, or Bruce Arians calls a couple of those. You want this guy running, much like vintage Michael Vick. . .
HINES WARD'S COMMENTS TO BOB COSTAS ON NBC'S "FOOTBALL NIGHT IN AMERICA":
On Ben Roethlisberger sitting out a vital game with a similar injury that Ward said didn't stop him before (and you know the Commissioner's office won't take too kindly to the "I've lied to a couple of doctors" line): "This game is almost like a playoff game. It's almost a must-win. I could see some players or teammates questioning, like 'it's just a concussion. I've played with a concussion before.' It's almost like a 50-50 toss up in the locker room. Should he play? Shouldn't he play?. It's really hard to say. I've been out there dinged up. The following week, got right back out there. Ben practiced all week. He split time with Dennis Dixon. And then to find out that he's still having some headaches and not playing and it came down to the doctors didn't feel that they were going to clear him or not. It's hard to say. Unless you're the person [himself]. . . . I've lied to a couple of doctors saying I'm straight, I feel good when I know that I'm not really straight. I don't think guys really worry about the future while they're playing currently in the NFL...Trust me, the players want to go out there because these games you don't get back. You're never going to get this Baltimore-Pittsburgh game back. This is a big game. Unfortunately, Ben can't play, so the 53 other guys have to rally the team and see if we can win one down here."
On the quarterback situation that forced Dixon into his inaugural NFL start: "It's rare that you lose both your starting and backup quarterbacks in the same week. We've got our backs against the wall as far as making sure that [we] go out there, 10 other guys, and surround Dennis and . . . make his job as easy as possible."
REACTION FROM NBC'S ANALYSTS
Former Chargers and Patriots safety Rodney Harrison: "It really surprised me. You look at Hines and Ben, and they've been teammates for six years, won two Super Bowls together, and for him to question his quarterback's toughness really shocked me. If Tom Brady had a hangnail, never would any of the guys question Tom Brady. So it really shocked me that he questioned his toughness."
Ex-Indianapolis coach and former Steelers player and coach Tony Dungy: "As a coach, that's why you can't listen to the players. You can't listen to 'Hey, I'm OK.' You have to go with the doctors. Mike Tomlin, I'm sure, is going with the doctors' view on this. The thing I don't understand is, why he's the third quarterback tonight. . . . The third quarterback would have played last week [in overtime at Kansas City] because they had two quarterbacks get hurt. I think if he's out, he should be out."
9:14 p.m.: Please excuse the varyinTg type sizes and the delay in the blog's timeliness, but I had to retype all that NBC stuff, for your reading pleasure. . . 9:15 p.m.: First of all, credit substitute left guard Foster and the offensive line for the holes in the running game (believe it or not, the Ravens are only No. 16 against the run in the NFL). Secondly, give Bruce Arians credit for calling runs so often, and sprinkling in various alignments -- though very little of the three-receiver sets. Finally, Dixon seems far more comfortable in his job, with the passes and a rollout and a 7-7 tie. By the way, that was Santonio Holmes' first touchdown reception since the Tennessee opener. . . 9:24 p.m.: ONE I FORGOT TO MENTION: Add newly signed Boiman and Ivy plus 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison to the kick-off coverage unit. . . 9:31 p.m.: There went a nice Steelers drive that went kerplooey, thanks to penalties -- though Mewelde Moore should've received a 2-point takedown on Ray Lewis there. Don't forget the amazing catch by Holmes, followed by an equally amazing stretch for a first down. . . again, all nullified by the Moore holding penalty. Still and all, Dixon-Holmes appears to be quite a budding connection south of the Mason-Dixon line tonight. . . 9:33 p.m.: Astute call, AFPilot. Steelers had 16 minutes, 41 seconds of possession time to Bawlmer's 9:08 before this Ravens offensive drive began. Precisely, grinding up time and space, playing the field-position game and giving Dixon time to feel cozy (not to mention Lewis and Reed, who hardly practiced this week, time to fatigue) are key. . . 9:36 p.m.: Referee Ed "Muscles" Hochuli is really hung up on this "eligibility" factor tonight, with all the calls about Baltimore offensive tackles at the end of the line. What, is his day job with eHarmony.com or Match.com?. . . 9:37 p.m.: You have to curse the day when coaches began counseling defensive backs that it was OK not to turn your head and look for the ball. Ryan Clark, a product of such teaching, merely went after Mark Clayton instead of trying to separate him from the incoming pass on that 54-yard game that likely will grant the Ravens a score before halftime. . . 9:41 p.m.: Derrick Mason beat Ike Taylor, and the Ravens have a 14-7 lead. Could this turn into a Mason-Dixon battle?. . . Halftime, 14-7, Ravens.
10:13 p.m.: After that sizeable turnover by the secondary, at a time when the Ravens seemed to be gathering momentum, if not even en route to a two-score lead, the Steelers are sitting in pretty decent scoring range. Once again, a Sweed-sour note: Mike Wallace dropped a potential touchdown catch in the end zone for the second time this season. . . 10:17 p.m.: Jeff Reed's 44-yard field goal quiets the crowd and whittles the Ravens' lead to 14-10. Still and all, the defense needs to allow no more than another field goal, and probably even produce a turnover, if not a score, to help the offense. . . 10:27 p.m.: Dixon's passes appear way off now. Behind Ward and Wallace on the past two plays. Perhaps Arians is asking too much of him to throw so often -- 10 of 18 for 129 yards with one-third of the third quarter still to play. I keep harking to that hand-off late in the first half, when Dixon handed off to somebody -- Mendenhall? -- on what appeared to be a spread-option run where Dixon could have kept it and bolted off left tackle. This quarterback is a ZZ Topp tune, man. He has legs. He knows how to use 'em. Let him. . . 10:36 p.m.: Brutal tackling by the secondary there on that Ray Rice catch and run. You realize how much they miss Troy Polamalu's not only intergalactic play, but his consistency. . . End of third quarter, Baltimore still ahead, 14-10.
Statistical update: The Steelers continue to lead in time of possession, 23:34 to 17:19. But the distressing signs, for them, are the Ravens' offensive yardage -- not just the 268 overall through three quarters, but the more-than-the-Steelers-normal 108 yard rushing by Baltimore. Meantime, where the Steelers' offense needs to gain yardage remains lacking, with just 76 yards rushing. . . 10:46 p.m.: BA reads the blog! He's calling runs. Wave to the press box for us, BA! (It's getting late.). . . 10:49 p.m.: Another special-teams return. Holy "Groundhog Day." Didja catch Patrick Bailey tackling a Raven who didn't have the ball, No. 82 L.J. Smith. Bailey nearly got him AND the ballcarrier, Chris Carr. Then Lawrence Timmons conjures a huge strip, and the Steelers get the ball back in good position, at their own 46-yard line. Run, Dennis, run. . . 10:54 p.m.: Nice surge by Justin Hartwig there, allowing Dixon to easily lunge for the first down on a quarterback sneak. See, you don't have to be 6-foot-5, 241 pounds. And Dixon followed it with a nice throw, and a better catch by Holmes on a comeback. . . 10:57 p.m.: Either BA is saving a Dixon run. . . well, please let me stop typing right there. That was a beautifully designed, and executed, QB bootleg -- probably with an option to pitch it forward or laterally to Moore, who threw a nice seal-back block there. The receivers carried out the fake so well, the Ravens' secondary never saw Dixon running down their backsides. . . and quickly. Kordell Stewart memories, anyone? (Running down the field, such as against Carolina, that is.) Steelers take their first lead of the night, 17-14, with 6:24 left. Up to the defense now. . . 11:07 p.m.: This old blogger is on a roll: I was prescient about Dixon and the run, or the defense. And both come up with big stuff. Punting with 3:33 left? That's why the Ravens called timeout to think about it. They have to go for it, as it appears they are with the offense coming back onto the field during the commercial timeout. . . 11:10 p.m.: . . . And bad tackling in the secondary --- Tyrone Carter, Timmons, Ike Taylor all missed -- again killed the Steelers again. Now it looks like the game will rest on the shoulders of Dixon and the offense, which is the polar opposite of what the Steelers want this night. Sure, there is a lot of time left, but you are asking too much of a first-time starter to win this in regulation or overtime. . . 11:15 p.m.: Flacco throws over the wrong shoulder to -- get this -- a Todd Heap who hasn't caught a pass yet this evening. Cowboys castoff Billy Cundiff makes a gimme putt to tie the contest, 17-17. It was juuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuust inside the right upright, too. Hmmm, sphincter-tightening time. Just the same, Dixon is placed in the crosshairs in the final 1:51 here. Or more. . .
11:18 p.m.: This is so meaningful, we gotta start a new blog line. . . 11:18:30 p.m.: Well, that was close to deciding the game right there, if Lardarius Webb doesn't go all Ike Taylor on that out pattern. Wayyyyyyyyy too much time left even for Flacco and Co. Heck, there's enough time remaining for the Ravens to sign Matt Stover just to drive an old stake through Steeler hearts. . . 11:20 p.m.: Just when you thought the Steelers special teams blew another game, the Ravens got called for an illegal block in the back, in the form of Tavares Gooden. Just the same, the Ravens have 1:17 to work. . . 11:24 p.m.: Two, two, two penalties in one on Taylor. Should've gone for the hat trick, huh? First down, Baltimore, at the Steelers' 35. Field-goal range. And more penalty flags. A 10-yard penalty on the Baltimore offense for interference? Wow, that takes them out of field goal range. But they ahve three downs to improve their spot. Plenty of time, at :53. . . 11:26 p.m.: Employing LSU clock management, a sack, fumble and a quick formation resulted in Cundiff's 52-yard kick falling just 2 yards shy.
We got overtime, kids.
You probably didn't see it on TV, but Mike Tomlin huddled the fellas along the sidelines just before the coin flip -- you'd imagine it would be one of those This-is-for-the-playoffs speeches. . . 11:30 p.m.: Ravens H6-6-1 all-time in OT, their last loss coming at the foot of Reed and the Steelers. The visitors won the toss and they get the ball first. Again, too much pressure on Dixon? Run first is a must out of this chute. . . 11:34 p.m.: Nice second-down run by Mendenhall, who has 20 carries for 80 yards. Dixon again on a third-and-1 plunge. Just a thought: What if he gets hurt in this overtime, just like Roethlisberger a week ago. Yeah, i'm one of those skeptical, negative thinkers. . . 11:36 p.m.: Not a great second-down throw by Dixon there. Holmes looked open on the left, too. Tough call, third-and-6. . . 11:37 p.m.: Dixon was off on those throws, not by a lot, but enough. That shows how much of an onus has been placed on him. The defense or the running game will have to win this game. And that's asking an awful lot. . . 11:39 p.m.: One thing in Dixon's favor: Flacco looked more off than Dixon on that series. The Steelers' 45-yard line? That leaves them needing 20 yards for decent Reed range. . . 11:41 p.m.: Third-and-five, for yet another third-and-long call. And his pass is intercepted by a rookie linebacker, Paul Kruger. He returned the ball to field-goal territory. A game that looked like a Baltimore victory until Dixon got going? Now it appears gone again. That was Kruger's first interception as an NFLer; it was intended for Holmes, in a crowd. . . 11:45 p.m.: Have you turned off your TVs yet? . . . 11:46 p.m.: Dixon missed 12 of his final 16 pass attempts, a more pertinent number for this game than the 29-yard Cundiff field goal to win it with 6:42 left in OT.
The Steelers, like the Ravens, are 6-5 and hurting.