4:15: Deferring on the road? Hmmmm. Interesting choice.
4:17: Sorry, CBS' Jim Nantz, but a one-point defeat of Tennessee on the road in Houston isn't The Upset of the Year. But, for Steelers fans, it either means the Titans feel vulnerable just in time for the playoffs. . . or they'll be some kinda hacked off at home for the Steelers next week.(Cincinnati winning a second time, isn't that an upset?)
4:24: Delay-of-game and false-start penalties on the Steelers' first possession? Not a great way to take the crowd out of it. "Crowd noise stopped the Steelers on that drive," Nantz's partner Phil Simms intoned. Well, a swaggering Ravens defense -- they're more and more like the ol' U. (Miami) every year, aren't they? -- had a little something to do with stopping them. By the way, it looks like Ben Roethlisberger might have room to scramble today, eh? (And, as quarterbacks go, isn't he a more dangerous runner than Joe Flacco?)
4:30: James Farrior just went off, following a collision with teammate Ryan Clark trying to tackle an option-running (?) Flacco. Will be interesting to see if the Steelers can thrive, let alone survive, without him. Thus far, though, with Troy Polamalu run-blitzing rather regularly, they're stuffing the Baltimore rush.
4:37: Actually, the Steelers appear to be running the ball rather well -- against this Ravens defense -- so far. As for the rumors about open punter tryouts tomorrow on the South Side. . . is Bobby Walden still alive? It reminds me of the old Gordie Howe line: How many goals would he score in today's game of hockey? "About 20," he said of his purported season output. "But I am 70." So is Walden.
4:39: Tennessee Titans update: Run-stuffing defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth left that Houston loss with a knee injury. That could significantly alter the course of that once-streaking team (though mostly streaking against lesser competition).
4:51: By my calculation -- and my abacus is rusty -- Mitch Berger is averaging 18 yards net per punt to this point (though that last one was a coverage problem, the returner deftly waiting until the defenders came downfield before surprisingly picking up the ball and running). But, hey, at least Berger can tackle.
4:59: Money Matt Stover... isn't he an AARP member yet? He kicked in that Giants-Colts Greatest Game, right? It's 3-0, Bawlmer, thanks to the punt return and the pass route where tight end Todd Heap schooled LaMarr Woodley on that long pass to set up the 28-yard kick to end a 7-play, 33-yard drive. Otherwise, Dick LeBeau and that Steelers' defense right now appear to have that conservative Ravens offense well scouted. You commenters appear to be onto something: This may well be a special-teams, field-goalfest kinda game.
5:15: Trying to answer AFPilot's comment about third-down conversions, the best I can find to show short-yardage rates is fourth down: There, the Steelers are 3 for 12 while opponents, against the NFL's top-rated defense, are a fairly decent 7 for 17. Roethislberger let the last two passes go pretty quickly, with at most five rushers. So the offensive line isn't being outnumbered there. After the generous spot and review on Gary Russell's third-and-one run and passes of 21 and 17 yards to Hines Ward and Nate Washington, the Steelers knotted this baby at 3-all on Jeff Reed's 31-yarder. Fourteen plays, 68 yards -- that's the kind of drive that could crawl inside those previously confidence-swollen Ravens defensive heads.
5:23: If officials are going to continue delineating who's "confused," every player and coach is in trouble. The 60,000-plus in the stands? Most of that is libation-caused confusion.
5:37: A 15-play, 69-yard drive that actually had Flacco completing passes -- five of eight for 34 yards after missing five of his first six attempts -- stalled on a poorly executed fake-and-post pass. Enter Stover again, this one from 26 yards. That makes it Bawlmer 6, Steelers 3 at intermission. By the way, that drive was almost 150 percent more yardage than the Ravens' 48 on their opening four drives. Some of it might have been the visitors being in a prevent defense. Some of it might have been the more multiple-move routes by Ravens wideouts, more lateral movement in backfield by Flacco and deeper drops by Steelers defensive backs.
5:54: Didja catch that first-half stat? The Ravens have compiled more yards on four returns (128) than total offense on 31 snaps (122). And, you ask me, Ben is getting enough time to throw against this Ravens defense; either the receivers aren't open or he isn't locating the best available one. Heath Miller just looked as if he flashed in the clear on the third-down throw-away right before Roethlisberger pivoted and reversed field. One play -- offensive or defensive -- may well settle this. And it still seems to me that the Steelers have running room, either between tackles or Roethlisberger scrambling.
6:03: Aaron Smith's sack allows us to shamelessly promote a wonderful column by Ron Cook about the Smith's family travails with their son, Elijah. On a lighter note, even if James Harrison doesn't get a half-sack's credit today or this week for that play, he's still a nightmare for both NFL quarterbacks and the Ravens -- who blithely released him years ago. I still remember talking to him after he had a big game against the Ravens in 2004: As his overnight bag, he brought out the bag the Ravens gave him to take to NFL Europe before he got hurt, got summoned back to the States and got cut for an old teammate, tight end Daniel Wilcox. One of his quotes then: "I was mad that they made me play in Europe and then had the audacity to tell me not to practice the first week [back]."
6:16: Man, Ed Reed is always around the football. And Santonio Holmes looked hurt after that fumble, which was a good call but an even better play to strip Holmes after that quick in-route. This could be the big play that changes the game, and it's on a Steelers' offensive turnover.
6:19: Minimal damage -- the Steelers' red-zone defense holds yet again, and Stover does a rerun of his Twentysomething-yard field-goal show. Nine-three, Ravens.
6:27: Holmes is back, forced to catch the tough pass for the Steelers' inaugural first down of the half -- 11 minutes into the third. Willie Parker was right: They need to run more, huh? Certainly would alleviate the pressure on Roethlisberger, and 67 yards on 21 rushes is considered productive against these Ravens. Hey, three of those average runs and it's fourth-and-inches, by my abacus.
6:32: Ugly fumble by Holmes on the punt return, but Keyaron Fox madesa huuuge play on that recovery and rumble. Not that I've watched every special-teams snap this season -- and he was hurt and absent for three games -- but he seems to be playing at Harrison-Yancey Thigpen levels on these units lately. Hines Ward took out Bart Scott on Roethlisberger's scramble, and Mewelde Moore got away from him on that short run he popped outside from inside. . . so, uh, maybe these running plays are indeed taking a toll on this vaunted Ravens defense? Still and all, the Steelers hafta get a touchdown on this possession, because a second straight fourth-quarter comeback seems to be asking wayyyy too much.
6:39: Holmes is exonerated. That attempt at a third-and-short pass by Roethlisberger goes beyond description. Homely? Medusah-like? Double yoy. Worst of all, Miller was open for the first down. Sometimes, a playmaker doth try too hard. And, uh, those comments about the Steelers' lacking third-and-short offense are spot on. A rollout pass with perhaps a run option wasn't an ill-advised choice, but. . . archaeologists are still trying to decipher that play. Good thing for the offense that the Steelers' defense bailed out its assets yet again. (See Deshea Townsend try and fail to make that interception? That's what I'm talking about with bad karma, trying to duplicate fourth-quarter magic too much.)
6:50: If I'm Ward, I want Plex as my personal bodyguard out of M&T Bank Stadium and Bawlmer. People must hate him more there than the Yankees.
6:52: Had Roethlisberger pump-faked in that direction, or at least failed to make the pre-snap decision to throw it toward Holmes no matter what, he might have seen Moore wide open on the skinny-post route into the end zone on that third-down incompletion. I played it back on DVR just to make sure -- Moore stopped in disbelief. Reed made it 9-6 after the 9-play, 54-yard drive. But will the Steelers get better field position in the final nine and a half minutes?
7:00: Ike Taylor had a legitimate gripe on that third-down conversion pass to Derrick Mason -- it looked like Mark Clayton got Taylor on a pick play, an illegal block. Doesn't look like this will end well for the Steelers.
7:03: Nice Ravens drive, using up five-plus minutes. Sack and strip by Lawrence Timmons, nice Holmes impersonation by Travis Kirschke. Still, a field goal can send this oh-ffensive beaute to OT. But the player of the game truly may be Ravens punter Sam Koch, with four of six punts inside the Steelers' 20 -- and way inside, at the 7, 4, 1 and 8. He entered today less pinpoint than that, with 27 punts dropped inside the 20 of 68 kicks overall.
7:11: Ninety-six seconds from the 1 to beyond midfield. Two minutes left. So what's the Steelers' rush? Why not. . . run the ball and some clock? A better question: You want to leave the outcome of this game to Stover's accufoot?
7:14: And Simms is right: What's with the panic, spiking the ball on first down? Once again, using my Big Eight math, Washington and Ward have 13 for 183 yards. Roethlisberger has thrown incomplete to them maybe five times total. So that means the rest of the receivers unofficially were a combined 8 of 20 for 59 yards before Holmes' 4-yard catch under monumental review. Nice catch: two feet down, possession, but did the ball cross the plane? I'm no official, nor did I sleep last night in a.....
7:18: Primetime fool wins the Comment du jour: "Will someone please tell the offense to come to work before 7 PM. That kind of tardiness is inexcusable." Take a victory lap, PF.
7:19: "We have a touchdown," Walt Coleman said. Lotsa Steelers fans making celebratory noise in Bawlmer. Steelers up for the first time, 13-9, after the only touchdown of the game and a 92-yard, intestinal-check drive.Still, is it too early? Polamalu seconds left (43)? And a penalty on the kicker, Reed, giving the Ravens great field position at midfield? Heck, they could go for the field goal and then try an onsides kick in this amount of time.
7:25: Wow, another fourth-quarter comeback. Another critical victory on the road, giving them five consecutive away from home, dating to that Philly debacle. Another critical victory in a murderous row: New England, Dallas and now Baltimore in succession. They secured the AFC North and, with another road triumph at Tennessee and then a spanking of Cleveland in the regular-season finale, home-field advantage could be all theirs through the playoffs. To this point, it's a radically different finish from last year's Steelers, too. The thing is, this time might be better suited for road-field advantage, much like the 2006 Super Bowl winners -- but that team had a reliable running game. Like Fast Willie said, such a missing ingredient could prove valuable come the muck of January.
7:37: My bad. All this, and the only artwork I've posted is Heidi Klum and Medusa -- two disparate babes. As makeup, I've posted the first Charm City song that comes to mind. Sing along with the Boss. "Got a wife and kids in Bawlmer, Jack [Harbaugh?, the former Pitt assistant who's daddy to Stanford Jim and Ravens John?]. . . "