Flacco's heroics give Ravens sweep of Steelers

Posted Nov. 07, 2011 @ 12:29 a.m.
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By Will Graves, AP Sports Writer

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Torrey Smith wasn't going to let the game-winning touchdown slip through his hands twice.

Five plays after a sure scoring strike tipped off his fingers, the Baltimore rookie receiver held onto a 26-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco with 8 seconds remaining to lift the Ravens past the Steelers 23-20 on Sunday night.

Smith, also flagged for a costly penalty on the game's first play, capped Baltimore's game-winning 92-yard drive by beating William Gay down the right sideline as the Ravens (6-2) snapped Pittsburgh's four-game winning streak.

Flacco finished with 300 yards passing and Baltimore swept the season series from the rival Steelers (6-3) for the first time since 2006.

The Steelers appeared to be in control after rallying from a 10-point deficit to take a 20-16 lead with less than 5 minutes to go when Ben Roethlisberger hit Mike Wallace for a 25-yard score.

Pittsburgh's defense held once and the Steelers moved in range for Shaun Suisham to attempt a 47-yard field goal that could have pushed their lead to seven.

A delay of game penalty, however, pushed Pittsburgh back five yards and the Steelers opted to punt.

Flacco, who fumbled midway through the fourth quarter to set up Roethlisberger's strike to Wallace, atoned during a brilliant 13-play drive.

He converted a fourth-and-1 at the Pittsburgh 49 with less than a minute to go to keep Baltimore's hopes alive and Smith made up for a drop with the biggest play of his young career.

The Steelers got the ball back with 8 seconds left but Antonio Brown fumbled a lateral from Wallace and the Ravens poured onto the Heinz Field turf in celebration.

It was sweet vindication for the Ravens, who watched two of their three previous seasons end on the same field.

With one dramatic play, Baltimore ended Pittsburgh's surge and moved into a tie with Cincinnati atop the AFC North.

Flacco, who had come under fire from his teammates for inconsistent play, completed 28 of 47 passes and kept his head late after spending much of the second half trying to avoid Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison.

The All-Pro sacked Flacco three times in his first game back after missing a month with a fractured orbital bone around his right eye, but Pittsburgh's pass rush disappeared on Baltimore's final drive.

The Steelers trailed by 10 going into the fourth quarter but put together an impressive rally. Rashard Mendenhall scored from 1 yard out to pull Pittsburgh within 16-13 and Harrison swatted the ball out of Flacco's hand on Baltimore's next possession.

Gay recovered and Roethlisberger put the Steelers in front when he rolled right to avoid pressure and threw in the direction of Brown. Wallace streaked in front of his teammate for the score and Pittsburgh appeared to be on its way to avenging a 28-point loss to the Ravens in the season opener.

Roethlisberger finished with 330 yards passing to become the first Pittsburgh quarterback to top 300 in three consecutive games, but the Steelers' defense couldn't contain Flacco at the end.

Pittsburgh vowed it was a better team than the one the Ravens routed in the opener, a whipping so decisive Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs joked he ``owned'' Roethlisberger after sacking him three times.

Suggs backed off his claim - a little anyway - in the run-up to the rematch, saying ``no man owns another, but if any one man can take Roethlisberger down, it's me'' during the week.

Suggs did just that, only he did it with his head, not his hands. The All-Pro outside linebacker picked off Roethlisberger's pass in the third quarter to preserve a 9-6 Baltimore lead. A dozen plays later, Ray Rice darted in from 4 yards out to put the Ravens up 16-6.

Yet the NFL's best defense couldn't make it hold up, though for once Flacco bailed the defense out in a relationship that's often been vice versa.

The Steelers spent the last two months slowly recovering from the beatdown in the opener and appeared to be back to their old selves during an emphatic 25-17 win over New England a week ago, their fourth straight victory.

The Ravens have been more of a mixed bag, solid one game, so-so the next. They needed a furious rally to get past Arizona a week ago to avoid their second straight loss, perhaps because they were caught looking ahead.

The Ravens had a 76-yard touchdown run by Rice on the game's first play wiped out by a holding penalty on Smith. The reprieve seemed to wake up Pittsburgh's defense, and the two teams settled into the kind of hard-hitting defensive struggle that's become the hallmark of one of the league's fiercest rivalries.

The Steelers lost wide receiver Hines Ward in the second quarter when he went down with a stinger after getting hit by Ray Lewis, leaving Pittsburgh with just three healthy wideouts for the rest of the game.

Pittsburgh's Ryan Clark was flagged for unnecessary roughness on Baltimore's final drive of the first half after drilling Baltimore's Ed Dickson. The penalty helped the Ravens get close enough for Billy Cundiff to drill a season-long 51-yard field goal as time expired to put the Ravens up 9-6 at the break.

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