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The Steelers trailed 7-0 at halftime on Sunday at Baltimore. That doesn't seem like an insurmountable lead, but it was starting to look like one for Pittsburgh, which had lost to the Ravens earlier in the season in Pittsburgh and were in danger of being swept. QB Ben Roethlisberger was playing on an injured foot and had suffered a broken nose. The defense had surrendered 173 yards in the first half. P Daniel Sepulveda was out with a knee injury, leaving PK Shaun Suisham to handle the punting.
Somehow, though, the Steelers got off the mat. The defense surrendered just 96 yards and three points in the final two quarters. Roethlisberger completed 13-of-19 passes for 161 yards in the second half after completing just 9-of-19 for 92 yards in the first 30 minutes.
With Pittsburgh trailing 10-6 with a little more than three minutes left in regulation, SS Troy Polamalu made the game-altering play the Steelers needed, bursting off the left edge, hitting QB Joe Flacco and forcing a fumble that was recovered by LOLB LaMarr Woodley, who rumbled to the Baltimore nine.
From there, it was up to the Steelers' offense to take care of business, and it did. Roethlisberger, in a key play, avoided a sack on first down by managing to stay up and throw the ball away as Ravens OLB Terrell Suggs — who had a tremendous game — tried to bring him down. Then, on third down, he found RB Isaac Redman — who had caught all of five passes this season — on a quick-hitter across the middle as the Ravens blitzed. Redman ran out of a tackle attempt by SS Dawan Landry and bounced off another attempt by SLB Jarret Johnson and into the endzone to give the Steelers their first lead of the game at 13-10 with 2:51 left. When Flacco underthrew TE Ed Dickson on a 4th-and-2 play with 37 seconds left, the Steelers had secured the victory.
"Tough place to play, but let's be frank, we needed to come here and even the score in this matchup," Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said. They came to our place earlier in the year and got us. So we had to even the score. Thankfully, we did, and we'll push on."
The PFW spin
Here are a few points to take away from the Steelers' win at Baltimore:
— Roethlisberger and Polamalu showed why they are two of the better players at their respective positions. The Ravens shut down the Steelers' running game, putting it on Roethlisberger to carry the offense, and he did just that against a tough defense and in trying circumstances. Sacked three times and under pressure on numerous other occasions, Roethlisberger stood in and led his team back in the second half.
Polamalu's hit on Flacco came as the quarterback was making a three-step drop and looking to throw a short pass to his right. He never had a chance as Polamalu, whose short-area burst rivals any safety's in football, closed and hammered him.
"It was actually a run pressure. We anticipated them to maybe run the football, and we were trying to drop them for a loss, get them off schedule, you know, keep them off schedule," Tomlin said afterward. "... Troy's a great player. A lot of guys would go in there and sack the quarterback. He sees the game a little differently; that's what makes him special."
— The defense remains one of the NFL's best and shut down a talented offense in the final 30 minutes. The Steelers can be vulnerable vs. the pass at times — only eight teams have allowed more yards through the air — but good luck running on them. Their strong second-half performance Sunday was impressive and reminiscent of their play earlier this season, when the defense propelled Pittsburgh to a 3-1 start.
— Redman's development is another example of how the Steelers are strong at developing young talent. A former undrafted free agent from Bowie State, Redman, a first-year pro (he was on the roster for one game last season but didn't earn an accredited season), has shown marked improvement this season, earning a role as a short-yardage back. Roethlisberger had enough confidence to look for him on the key third down of the game, and Redman showed enough strength and athleticism to make an outstanding individual effort to score what was the game-winning TD.
"I thought I was going to be in there for protection in case of a blitz, but the ball came my way, and I wasn't going to be denied," Redman said. "When you're playing with a guy like Ben Roethlisberger, you see him bleeding, and he's got a bad foot. He's the kind of guy you want on your sideline. I'm happy we could get this done."
— The Steelers paid a big price in injuries in the victory. Sepulveda, who's had a history of knee injuries, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right leg. His loss can't be glossed over; he has been punting very well this season. The Steelers are charged with finding a capable replacement in December, which is not easy or ideal. TE Heath Miller (concussion) and ORT Flozell Adams (ankle) also left the game. Roethlisberger had surgery on his broken nose on Monday, but he is expected to play Sunday vs. Cincinnati, according to ESPN.
Of Roethlisberger's ability to play hurt, Tomlin said, "That's Ben. We expect that from him, not that it's unappreciated. It is. But we expect it from him, and he expects it from himself."
Nevertheless, Roethlisberger's health down the stretch, and the Steelers' ability to protect him, is no small issue to monitor.