NFL: Steelers' playoff hopes take a hit with loss to Baltimore
BALTIMORE — Ben Roethlisberger draped his right arm around Emmanuel Sanders after the receiver emerged from the showers in the locker room, the quarterback accepting the blame for a failed 2-point conversion that settled a yes-no-yes-no-yes-no, 22-20 finish befitting the tense rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.
Yes. The Steelers scored a touchdown on the first play after the two-minute warning. No. Replay showed that Heath Miller’s right knee was down at the half-yard line.
Yes. Le’Veon Bell scored on 1-yard run. No. Replay showed his helmet came off at the half-yard line from a helmet-to-helmet hit by Jimmy Smith that left both players injured.
Yes. Jerricho Cotchery caught a 1-yard touchdown pass on fourth down with 1:03 remaining. No. The 2-point attempt that would have tied the game failed when Roethlisberger’s pass slipped through the hands of Sanders, who was screened by cornerback Chykie Brown.
That left the Steelers with a frustrating loss to the Ravens on Thursday night, ending a three-game winning streak and putting Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes in serious trouble.
“Ben gave me a good ball; I’ve got to make that play,” Sanders said.
“It hit my hands, and I’ve got to make the play. It’s not on him. It’s on me.”
Responded Roethlisberger: “I got frustrated with myself because I’ve got to give him a better ball. It wasn’t an easy catch, and I could’ve made it a lot easier on him, so I take that on myself.”
The Steelers came that close, having awakened after a first half in which the offense generated 98 yards.
Pittsburgh scored touchdowns on three of its four second-half possessions, which was nearly enough to compensate for a string of 3-pointers from Baltimore kicker Justin Tucker, who finished with five field goals.
The Steelers (5-7), despite a losing record, started the day in a six-way tie for the AFC’s second wild-card berth. Now they can hardly afford to lose again.
“It’s definitely a win-out situation,” Sanders said. “But what can we do but continue to focus on the next opponent?”
The game had its share of weirdness. A first-half field goal attempt by Shaun Suisham was aborted because the Pittsburgh kicker misheard the snap count and started too early. The play turned into a 12-yard loss that gave the Ravens good field position for a scoring drive.
In the third quarter, Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin strayed to the edge of the field as Jacoby Jones streaked down the sideline on a kickoff return. Jones had to alter his path to avoid the coach and was tackled after a 73-yard return.
“I always watch the returns on the Jumbotron, it provides a better perspective for me,” Tomlin said. “Obviously I lost my placement as he broke free, and I saw it at the last second, saw how close I was to the field of play.”
Asked if he thought he interfered with Jones, Tomlin said: “No.”
“I don’t blame other people’s actions,” Jones said. “I still should have scored.”
Then, of course, came the crazy sequence at the end. Tomlin had no problem with the actual rulings that overturned the two apparent touchdowns, but he wondered why it took so long to call for the review after Bell’s helmet came off.
“I understand the rule that when a runner’s helmet comes off, the play is over,” Tomlin said. “The issue I have — I was told on the field that the touchdown was confirmed by multiple officials and then they reviewed. That’s my issue, from a mechanics standpoint.”
The collision left Bell with a concussion, one of several Steelers injuries that included defensive end Brett Keisel (foot), guard Kelvin Beachum (knee), tackle Mike Adams (ankle), guard David DeCastro (foot) and offensive lineman Fernando Velasco (ankle).
“It’s typical Steelers-Ravens in terms of being nip-and-tuck, just not enough plays down the stretch,” Tomlin said. “I appreciate the effort of the guys, but we didn’t come here with effort in mind. We came here to win.”