Wow. What a game. The players knew it going in as did the fans. The Pittsburgh Steelers were wearing warm-ups sporting # 50. This game would have 5-0 stamped on it. James Harrison shirtless on the field. A man who measures his words; but prefers to just do it rather than talk about it. His homage to injured Ryan Shazier a statement for all to see:
Another sign this game would be special. There are always legacy Steelers that attend games. No different this game; but who came down into our section? None other than John “Frenchy” Fuqua. Surprisingly, many fans around us did not know what position he played or his role in the Immaculate Reception. They were excited to see a former Steeler, but Ken S & I explained his significance to the team – and his flashy outfits. Very exciting for me to shake his hand; the man with the secret that he will take to his grave:
The Baltimore Ravens started with the ball and disconcertingly drove from their own 17 to the Steelers 33-yard line – easily within Justin Tucker’s range. Joe Flacco threw the ball apparently straight to Sean Davis. We were hoping to see more defensive splash plays but instead the Ravens first drive that went down the field was a warning that their offense had arrived to play. But it was early yet. The Steelers made the turnover count with a drive punctuated with a 20-yard pass to Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers scored again after a long drive that began on the ten-yard line. Vance McDonald targeted this time instead of Jesse James who caught a couple in the first drive. The key play was a 28-yard pass to Antonio Brown on third down. Le’Veon Bell notched a second touchdown, this time on the ground. At this point, it looked like this could be a Steelers victory going away. Ben Roethlisberger was throwing great and the Ravens did not seem to have answers. A solid Ravens game plan; poor defensive play and some significant help by the referees would soon have the elated crowd very angry.
Alex Collins gashed the Steelers run defense. Outracing defenders to the edge or beating them to the gaps. Joe Flacco made some completions just out of reach of a defender’s grasp. Receivers seem wide open and racing for the end zone. The home fans euphoria tempered with the lead cut in half. The Steelers respond with a field goal; Vance McDonald missed on third down – not sure of this was the play I saw a clear helmet to helmet hit on the receiver that the referees chose not to penalize.
The first half ended in a flurry. The Ravens gained 85 yards on 5 plays and scored another touchdown to make it 17-14. The Steelers defense appeared to be scrambling to get into position. Alex Collins scoring on the ground from 18 yards out. The cheers of the fans sounding a little desperate. The Steelers have the ball and Chris Boswell does kick a field goal to end the half but not before Ben takes a sack causing groans in the stands. Throw the ball away! Eli Rogers makes a key 3rd down conversion catch. McDonalds 18-yard catch puts them into field goal range. This refereeing crew seems to have to confer a lot. The clock is not started on the Field Goal attempt. Mike Tomlin is livid. After some discussion, the referees decide to put one second on the clock instead of ending it. Squib kick and the Steelers clinging to a 20-14 lead.
The first possession of the half does not go so well. Bell swallowed up by Michel Pierce & Brandon Williams – that’s 674 pounds of beef. Ground is blocked so let’s go to the air. Four passes later Jordan Berry is punting. His three punts averages 47 yards and helped lengthen the field for the Ravens offense which helped. Settling for three by Justin Tucker much better than touchdowns. The Steelers try running with Bell, but he is going nowhere. Another Berry punt but this time the Ravens will not be held out of the end zone. Starting at their own 40 the Ravens take the lead; a key play being a 17-yard run by Alex Collins.
Pittsburgh goes three and out. Now this is where the referees start to take over. Sean Davis gets a deserved flag for unnecessary roughness. Not too much complaint from the fans. But on a deep pass to Mike Wallace, Artie Burns is called for defensive pass interference. The replay on the scoreboard clearly shows both players hand fighting with both their arms extended – this should have been a no call. Fans go bananas. The referees pointedly avoid looking at the replay on the big screen which plainly reveals their gaffe. The Ravens use the gift to score a play later. Down by eleven. Fans unhappy with the call and the Steelers defense up until now. 20-31.
Martavis Bryant mishandles another kick, this one almost going for a safety. It looks like he is trying to stay in end zone and allow the ball to hit and roll in so he ca get a touchback. Instead Tucker’s kick has backspin, so it hits about the half yard line but starts to roll back in pay forcing Bryant to try to scoop a ball that is rolling away from him (it may have been on another return, but Bryant was having a heck of a time fielding Tucker’s kicks). Still the Steelers had the ball albeit with poor field position and were driving as the 3rd quarter ended still down eleven.
The first play started with the referees blowing another call in my opinion. Away from the play, a Raven launched at Antonio Brown to shove him; AB ducks out of the way and shoves him in the back as they spin. Raven initiated the attack; Brown defended himself and gets the flag. It was not just my opinion; don’t know if it came across on television but during the game there was a chant by what had to be thousands in unison going, “Refs You Suck.” Steelers staff on the ground looked perplexed but folks were very angry. Penalties against the Ravens seemed to cost them few yards and insignificant to outcome of the game. Penalties on Steelers came at key times or dug them a deep hole. On the same drive as Antonio’s penalty; Le’Veon Bell is in the end zone with a Raven hanging on him like a cheap suit. No call by the referees – instead of a first and goal at three with a potential touchdown the Steelers must settle for a field goal. “Refs You Suck!” is being chanted throughout the stadium more anger at the missed call than cheering for the field goal.
The man behind the curtain at Heinz Field knows it is time to channel all that energy. With 12:17 left the scoreboard goes dark; the chanting wavers; it’s time for Renegade. Heinz Field is rocking. They see # 50 on the screen making some plays. This is as loud as I’ve heard Heinz since last Xmas. The Steelers defense responds with its first 3 and out of the game. We thought Sam Koch had shanked the punt, but it did go 45 yards and gave the Steelers their best starting field position since the first drive of the game after the interception. From their own 33; Ben throws two incompletions but then connects with Antonio Brown who bobs and weaves for 57 yards. Then a one-yard touchdown pass to Roosevelt Nix who lands on top of Tony Jefferson who has to be assisted from the field. The Steelers have two tries to tie it but fail. The first attempt if a pass interference that not even these referees can ignore.
The Steelers special teams let up on the kickoff which is returned for 40 yards. The Ravens quickly advance into Steelers territory after Sean Davis is flagged for his second unnecessary roughness penalty. Like the first push with player out of bounds this is probably deserved. The Steelers force a 4-yard loss and then the referees make another bad call – Artie Burns is called again with ball sailing over Mike Wallace’s head; Burns is turned trying to track the ball and gets the flag. Absurd. The excitement turns to anger once again. With the 20-yard gift, the Ravens take advantage and score again to pull ahead by eight points. Still plenty of time.
The Steelers need two scores and a stop with 6:38 to go. A punishing game. Le’Veon Bell was hurt – knee maybe. But he comes back in. Alejandro Villanueva trying to loosen up his shoulder which is obviously bothering him. Bell still good enough to score his third touchdown. 36-38. Step 1 complete.
The referees seem to have zipped up the pockets with the flags in them. A second three and out. Mike Mitchell makes a big stop preventing a first down. Then Stephon Tuitt almost getting a pick. The Ravens forced to punt. Step 2 complete.
The Steelers last drive does not start well. Ben is sacked on the first play. Oh no Ben. Jesse James comes up big. McDonald is out but Jesse has been catching the ball well all game. Even making some good yards after catch (YAC) on one play. This drive he has three receptions in a row, the biggest one of the game was his second in this series. A 16-yard reception on 3rd and 13. A deep pass to Antonio Brown seems to seal the game. 1:02 left and on the 30-yard line. 48 yards is makeable for Chris Boswell even kicking toward the river against this wind. Just need to eat the clock with some runs and force the Ravens to use their last time outs. Bell for two; Ravens timeout. So far, so good. Then on 2nd and 8 Ben targets Xavier Grimble in the end zone who is covered by 2 or 3 Ravens. Incomplete, clock stopped at :56. Even if they had scored; Baltimore would have had the ball back with time. Then another incomplete pass. Yoi. Chris Boswell is money from 46 yards. Steelers have the lead again 39-38 but here is still :42 left in this game. They got that kicking machine called Justin Tucker. Step 3 complete but the Steelers defense must come up with another stop.
Boz kicks 65 yards for a touchback. So far so good. Baltimore calls timeout after an incomplete pass – not sure why but I’ll take it. Mike Wallace gets a first don and Flacco spikes the ball. With :21 left and on their own 39 they need 20-25 yards to get to Tucker’s foot. An incomplete, Steelers fans screaming in frenzy. It’s 3rd down. :16 left. Ball is snapped. Flacco scrambling to his left toward Steelers sideline, T.J. Watt catches him by the ankles and Flacco fumbles out of bounds. Heinz Field is going nuts. The announcer is saying, “it’s 4th down ….” And suddenly its over. We re stunned for a moment. Why didn’t the clock stop? Then the explanation comes clear; the ball was reset, and the clock started again. A fumble out of bounds does not stop the clock. In the confusion the Ravens never had a chance to get a final snap off. Here we go!
There were points in this game that my faith was shaken especially when they were down by eleven– but as my friend Ken S kept reminding me – “you gotta Believe!”. Before the 4th quarter started he said, “remember we were here last Xmas and the Steelers scored three times in this end zone to win it.” Small town girls and city boys from all over were at the game and watching around the country. Can you believe it; they did it again – only this time four scores in the same end zone to defeat the Ravens again. We are on a journey, so here is Journey playing, Don’t Stop Believing.
Small town girl Dominique & city boy Anthony. She flew up from Southern Florida for her first Steelers game.
Almost lost in all the excitement is that the Steelers won the AFC North crown. Since it was yet another primetime night game; I have chosen After Dark by Tito & Tarantula to commemorate it. In this video short Salma Hayek is in the role of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Juliette Lewis plays the AFC North (Browns, Bengals & Ravens). Quentin Tarentino & George Clooney as Steelers Nation. Harvey Keitel & Tom Savini (a Burgher) as NFL football fans. With an opening appearance of Danny Trejo playing Bill Hillgrove announcing the team and a brief appearance by Roger Goodell played by Cheech Marin.
Here is Ken S who is a great Steelers fan. He brought a friend to the game who had to be at work for a 5AM shift Monday morning. He drove straight back to Hanover a few hours from the Burgh, so his bud could get a few hours rack time. Ken loves meeting Steelers fans wherever. Coincidentally, Beverly, the usher in our section (pictured in middle) lived on the same block as me in my old Pittsburgh neighborhood of Knoxville in the 1960’s. Our streets shared the same back alley so literally lived only a few dozen feet from each other – we never met until the last couple years at Heinz Field.