PITTSBURGH, PA – The Ravens needed to win out in order to win the AFC North and clinch a playoff berth, but they fell 31-27 to the Steelers on Sunday and are now officially eliminated from the postseason.
The Ravens had a 20-10 lead entering the fourth quarter, but could not stop a Pittsburgh offense that scored 21 points in the final 15 minutes of the game. That would end up being the difference that the Steelers needed to win on Christmas Day and seal Baltimore’s fate.
Pittsburgh’s win officially knocks the Ravens out of the playoffs. The Steelers (11-5) are now two games ahead of the Ravens (8-7) in the AFC North standings, so Pittsburgh will still have the edge over Baltimore regardless of what happens in the final week of the regular season.
“Obviously a disappointing, bitter loss,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said after the game. “[The Steelers] went down the field [in the fourth quarter] and scored three touchdowns. [They made] big plays, and got the ball in the end zone, which was obviously the big difference in the game. I wish them all the best in the playoffs.”
The Ravens will now miss the playoffs for the third time in four seasons after winning Super Bowl 47 in 2013.
As usual, the Ravens and the Steelers battled to the very end. At the end of the third quarter, the Ravens had a 17-10 lead. While Pittsburgh was able to score touchdowns in each of their final three offensive drives, the Ravens still managed to score 10 points in the fourth quarter. With 1:18 to go in the game, Joe Flacco connected with fullback Kyle Juszczyk, who got in the end zone to give the Ravens a 27-24 lead. However, the Steelers got the ball back and scored the game-winning touchdown with nine seconds left on a four-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Antonio Brown. Brown made the catch on a slant-route and had to extend his arm in order to get the ball over the goal line. It took replay to confirm the score, but the video showed that Brown’s arm had just the right amount of distance to count as a touchdown.
Brown was able to have a big day in the absence of Baltimore corner-back Jimmy Smith. Brown finished the game with 10 receptions for 96 yards that included the game-winning score.
“Our offense gave us 27 points,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the game. “Usually when our offense scores 27 points and we’re winning in the fourth quarter, it works out in our favor. It is very disappointing in that fashion, but you have to respect the Steelers. We had 1:18, and they did a good job of not being denied.”
The Ravens had five offensive drives in the first half, and they got into Pittsburgh territory each time. But, they only had six points to show for it after the fist 30 minutes of the game. In the first half, Baltimore let three points slip away when they failed to kick a field goal as punter Sam Koch could not catch a snap from long-snapper Morgan Cox. The ball was snapped high, and Koch could not get the ball down for kicker Justin Tucker, leaving three points on the scoreboard.
“There were 5-10 points that were left out there and could have made the difference,” Flacco said after the game. “You’re are given your opportunities but we were just a little bit short.”
Next week the Ravens will battle the Bengals (5-9-1) in Cincinnati on New Year’s day. The game is essentially meaningless, but both teams will be playing for pride. Even in these meaningless week 17 games, there are certainly some things to be on the lookout for. There will be rookies looking to build off of their first seasons, impending free agents trying to prove why they are deserving of a new contract, and bubble players looking to prove that they have a place on the team.
With Baltimore’s elimination from the postseason for the second consecutive year, next week’s game could be the springboard for what is sure to be an interesting offseason for the Ravens, as several big decisions could be on the horizon.