Did anyone really trust Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman to hold on to the football?
Emmanuel Sanders couldn’t do it Sunday in Baltimore. He lost a fumble and dropped a pass. Mike Wallace also dropped a pass.
That’s not what the Pittsburgh Steelers needed a week after turning the ball over eight times in Cleveland.
Dwyer and Redman, both guilty of fumbles last week, just had to secure the ball Sunday with the Steelers in field-goal range in the final two minutes. This time, they kept the ball in their hands and left everything to the foot of perhaps the one player who hasn’t let the Steelers down once this year, Shaun Suisham.
Suisham’s 42-yard field goal, his 24th in 25 attempts this season, gave the Steelers a last-second, 23-20 win over the Baltimore Ravens (9-3).
The Steelers (7-5), led by their backup quarterback, needed a win in Baltimore on a late-autumn evening to snap a two-game losing streak.
It should, because the Steelers were in the same boat in 2009. With Dennis Dixon calling the signals, the Steelers forced overtime, but lost 20-17. It was the third of five straight losses that derailed their season. They settled for a 9-7 record and missed the playoffs.
A central antagonist in the Steelers’ 2009 demise again figured prominently on Sunday.
Paul Kruger’s interception in overtime helped set up the Ravens’ winning field goal three years ago.
Kruger’s indiscretion right after the two-minute warning on Sunday put the Steelers in field-goal range.
Kruger couldn’t intercept Charlie Batch, so he shoved him instead.
That’s a no-no.
The roughing-the-passer penalty moved the ball from the Ravens’ 34-yard line to their 19. Dwyer and Redman ran the clock down to three seconds, and Suisham sent everyone home.
Kruger’s transformation from diabolical villain three years ago to dumb criminal Sunday should be the poetic symmetry that puts to rest any fears that 2012 will be 2009 all over again.
There’s also Troy Polamalu’s wardrobe change. Polamalu wore sweats on the sidelines week after week as the Steelers’ playoff hopes slipped away in 2009. On Sunday, Polamalu wore a uniform, and he was on the field. If his recovery from a calf injury stays on course, the Steelers should have Polamalu’s services down the stretch this season.
However, the injury bug giveth, and the injury bug taketh way.
Ike Taylor left Sunday’s game with what Pro Football Talk says is a fibula injury. He was scheduled to have an MRI today, and he could be out two to six weeks.
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco tried to exploit Taylor’s injury by picking on Cortez Allen, who replaced Taylor at cornerback. A pass interference penalty on Allen led to a field goal and a 6-3 Ravens lead in the first half. Then Anquan Boldin beat No. 28 on a 28-yard touchdown pass that increased Baltimore’s lead to 13-3. Allen seemed to settle down after that. Flacco completed just 16 of his 34 passes in the game for 188 yards.
Taylor’s injury is a little bit of rain on the parade of the Steelers’ first win over the Ravens since the 2010 playoffs, but it doesn’t have to get in the way of a 2012 playoff berth. Keenan Lewis has emerged as a Pro Bowl-caliber cornerback, and Polamalu can erase a lot of mistakes in the secondary if he remains healthy.
That secondary also might get some help from the Steelers’ improved pass rush. Pittsburgh sacked Flacco three times Sunday. That pressure spawned two Ravens turnovers. It was just the second time this season the Steelers have forced more than one turnover in a game.
The Steelers also committed two turnovers, including an Ed Reed interception in the end zone that preserved the Ravens’ 20-13 lead early in the fourth quarter.
James Harrison answered three plays later when he stripped Flacco and Ziggy Hood recovered the fumble at the Ravens’ 27.
That set the stage for Batch to lead a fourth-quarter comeback that would make Ben Roethlisberger proud. He tied the game 20-20 with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Heath Miller.
Larry Foote ended the Ravens’ ensuing possession by pressuring Flacco into an incomplete pass on third down. The Ravens punted with 6:23 left, and never saw the ball again.
Batch completed five passes on the game-winning drive, including a 15-yarder to Wallace on third-and-7 and a nine-yarder to Antonio Brown to get the Steelers to the Ravens’ 44. Then came a 10-yard connection to Wallace, and Kruger’s little contribution at the end of the play.
Like Kruger, Batch once upon a time was an opponent who helped nudge the Steelers down the slippery slope of collapse. He quarterbacked the Detroit Lions in the infamous Thanksgiving coin flip game in 1998, which the Steelers lost 19-16 in overtime.
Batch and the Lions dropped the Steelers to 7-5, which seemed mediocre for a team that had reached the playoffs for six straight seasons. It would only get worse. The Steelers lost their last five games that season and finished 7-9.
Batch is on the Steelers’ side now, and this time 7-5 looks a lot different than it did 14 years ago.
That record is a sight for sore eyes considering all the Steelers have gone through. Roethlisberger has missed the last three games with shoulder and rib injuries, but likely will be back for the Steelers’ final four games. If the Steelers win them all, they’ll make the playoffs. No scoreboard watching required.
Batch has done his job as a backup quarterback, keeping the Steelers afloat during Roethlisberger’s injury.
And Dwyer and Redman did their job keeping the ball in their hands.