Steelers number 3 quarterback Dennis Dixon played above and beyond expectations, but in the end it was the Steelers vaunted defense that ended up being the Achilles heel in a 20-17 overtime loss to Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night in Baltimore. Ravens kicker Billy Cundiff made 29 yard field goal in overtime to send the Steelers to 6-5 on the season.
Dixon put the Steelers ahead 17-14 with 6:32 left in the game as he ran around right end for 24 yards on a gadget play and the Steelers turned the game over to their defense. On a 3rd and 22 from the Ravens own 29 on the next possession, quarterback Joe Flacco hit wide receiver Derrick Mason for a 17 yard gain. The play set up a crucial 4th and 5 for the Ravens who took a timeout before deciding to go for it. Flacco hit running back Ray Rice on a short crossing pattern and after some bad tackling attempts, Rice rumbled all the way down to the Steelers 10 yard line. The defense then held the Ravens to a game tying field goal. The Steelers went 3 and out on the following possession and punted. The Ravens attempted one final drive in regulation, but fell short on a 56 yard field goal and the game went into overtime.
Both teams traded overtime possessions before Dixon made his only big mistake of the night as he starred down receiver Santonio Holmes and was intercepted by linebacker Paul Kruger, who started in place of the injured Terrell Suggs. Kruger returned the ball to the Steelers 28 and six plays later the game was over.
Dixon was thrust into action because starter Ben Roethlisberger was forced to sit with post concussion headaches following the hit he took last week versus the Chiefs. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch was also sidelined after having wrist surgery as he too was injured last week. Dixon had limited practice preparation and a scaled back play book, but played well most of the night. On the night he was 12 for 26 for 145 yards and one touchdown. The touchdown came in the second quarter on a nice 33 yard pass to Holmes on a designed roll out. Holmes led all Steelers receivers with 6 catches for 74 yards and the one touchdown.
The Steelers main focus going into the night was was to establish the running game. Rashard Mendenhall carried 24 times for 95 yards and ran hard. The solid running game could only help so much as the Steelers were only 6 for 16 on third down conversions. Dixon did struggle on predictable 3rd down passing situations, but it was to be expected.
The true story of the night was the defense inability to stop big plays. The Ravens tallied 4 plays of 20 plus yards in key situations. Most of the night poor tackling by the defensive backs allowed too many yards after the catch. On the night, the Stelers defense surrendered 289 yards passing from Flacco and the Ravens running backs combined for 132 yards on the ground. The defense did force 3 fumbles on the night and recovered 2. They also sacked Flacco 5 times on the night, 2 of which were credited to linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
The loss is the 3rd straight now for the Steelers and they now are on the outside looking in for one of the two Wild Card spots in the AFC. The Steelers now host the Oakland Raiders next Sunday at Heinz Field in a must win game.