Well, that was ugly.
In Ben Roethlisberger’s first game back from a left knee injury (just 21 days after undergoing surgery to repair a torn meniscus), the Pittsburgh Steelers’ high-powered offense failed to click, and the Steelers (4-4) fell to the Baltimore Ravens (4-4), 21-14. With the win, the Ravens take over the top spot in the AFC North.
Roethlisberger is now 2-6 in his first game back from injury.
During the week, a lot of attention was focused on Roethlisberger’s injury and whether or not he’d play. But for the first three quarters it looked like it might have been better to have backup quarterback Landry Jones take the snaps.
Roethlisberger seemed to have no chemistry with his wide receivers (Antonio Brown had just five yards in the first half and wasn’t targeted until late in the second quarter), and many of Roethlisberger’s throws were errant and just off. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley certainly drew up some conservative play-calling, but the Steelers made it hard to remember they have three of the most potent offensive weapons in the NFL (Roethlisberger, Brown and running back Le’Veon Bell).
In the first half, Pittsburgh managed just 66 yards, the fewest in a first half with Roethlisberger at quarterback since 2009 against the Josh McDaniel-led Broncos. And the Steelers’ undisciplined play had the flags flying, to the point that, in that first half, Pittsburgh had more penalty yards (84) than offensive yards (66).
And things didn’t get much better for the Steelers until early in the fourth quarter. Up until that point, here were the Steelers’ offensive drives:
Blocked punt, returned for TD
Pittsburgh called on punter Jordan Berry nine separate times (for 431 yards, an average of 47.9 yards per punt), almost making him the game’s MVP.
In the fourth quarter, Roethlisberger looked like his typical gunslinger self and put together a nice drive, which concluded with a 23-yard touchdown to Brown. The Steelers’ offense then marched down the field again, before stalling on 4th and 18 on the Baltimore 25-yard line after Sammie Coates couldn’t grab what should have been a very easy touchdown (one of Coates’ many drops on the day). But Roethlisberger then came up with another nice long drive where he ran the ball four yards into the endzone for the touchdown.
But at that point, it was just too late for the Steelers’ offense — especially after Chris Boswell’s completely flubbed onside kick attempt.
Still, it wasn’t like the Ravens looked all that great. Baltimore scored early on a 95-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to former Steeler wideout Mike Wallace, made two field goals and returned a blocked punt for a touchdown (and got the ensuing two-point conversion), but Pittsburgh’s defense played pretty well.
Defensive end Cam Heyward made his much-anticipated (and much-needed) return to the lineup and helped hold the Ravens’ running backs to just 50 yards. And linebacker Ryan Shazier, who is incredibly dangerous even when playing at 75 percent, looked healthier than he had in a while and came up with six solo tackles, three assisted tackles, half a sack and a forced fumble. Ageless wonder James Harrison also had a stellar game at linebacker with six solo tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble.
Outside of the 95-yard touchdown where Wallace went essentially untouched, Pittsburgh’s secondary did an admirable job. Cornerback Artie Burns got his first start in the secondary and contributed to holding the Ravens to just the lone offensive touchdown.
But the strong play of Pittsburgh’s defense just wasn’t enough to overcome the offense’s less-than-stellar outing.
Pittsburgh’s loss means the team has lost its last three games (to the Ravens, New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins). After starting the season 4-1, the Steelers are now 4-4 with the 7-1 Cowboys next on the schedule.
Image credit: Nick Wass/AP Photo