- The Washington Times - Monday, December 15, 2008

— A Ravens-Steelers game doesn’t need any sideshows to make it compelling, especially when both teams are among the elite in the NFL and battling for the AFC North division title in December.

But before Sunday afternoon’s game at M&T Bank Stadium between the two defensive powerhouses, the buzz among the fans was as much about who might be attending the game as who was playing in it.

Fans in the record crowd of 71,502 were trying to get a look in the luxury boxes and on the field or even in the stands right next to them to see whether they could get a glimpse of a baseball player - Mark Teixeira, the free agent prize coveted by the Nationals who was rumored to be coming to the game.

If so, he at least could share in their misery - a 13-9 Ravens loss that turned on a 4-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes with just 43 seconds left in the game.

Teixeira, a native of Severna Park, Md., and his fellow Ravens fans watched as their team never trailed at any point in the game - until the final minute.

The win gives the Steelers a record of 11-3 and the division title, and the Ravens (9-5) now must battle for a wild card spot. Baltimore’s three-game winning streak was halted, while Pittsburgh, which beat the Ravens 23-20 in overtime the first time the teams met this season, is on a roll with five straight victories.

On Sunday, as was the case in the first loss, the difference was experience at the quarterback position. Roethlisberger completed 22 of 40 passes for 246 yards and no interceptions, scrambling to get away from the Ravens’ pass rush, while Baltimore’s rookie quarterback Joe Flacco was just 11-for-28 for 115 yards and two interceptions.

And as great as the Steelers’ defense is, how far they go in the playoffs will be determined by whether Roethlisberger can continue to make the big plays when needed.

“[Roethlisberger] is one of those guys that can get out and make plays,” Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis said. “He made a couple of plays tonight.”

Flacco couldn’t sustain a scoring drive when the Ravens needed it in the fourth quarter, while Roethlisberger took his team down the field with less than four minutes remaining for the game-winning score. Holmes was originally ruled down at the 1, but the play was changed to a touchdown after review, though it appeared that while Holmes’ feet were in the end zone, the ball never actually crossed the plane.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh protested but said he was told by officials, “They didn’t have a good enough angle to overturn it.”

Referee Walt Coleman said the ball was “breaking the plane” when Holmes’ feet were down.

But Baltimore had no excuses for allowing Pittsburgh to go 92 yards to get in that position - particularly after the Ravens had a chance to close out a win and failed to do so.

Baltimore had a first down at the Pittsburgh 29 but gained just 2 yards on running plays, and Flacco was sacked on third-and-8.

Baltimore punter Sam Koch pinned the Steelers back at their own 8. But after Roethlisberger started with a 13-yard completion to Hines Ward, Roethlisberger completed three more passes to Ward and two to Nate Washington in the 92-yard, game-winning drive before the touchdown pass to Holmes.

Ward likes to proclaim that he is the most hated man in Baltimore. On Sunday, he only added to those bad feelings with his clutch receptions in the final drive, catching more passes than he had in the first three quarters.

You heard the chant of “defense” often throughout the crowd, as if either of these teams needed to be exhorted to play defense. This was a contest featuring two of the top three defenses in the NFL - entering the game, the Steelers ranked first, the Ravens third - and “offense” might have been a more appropriate chant.

Baltimore took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on a 28-yard field goal by Matt Stover. Jeff Reed tied it for Pittsburgh with a 31-yard field goal with less than six minutes left in the half, but the Ravens came back to take a 6-3 lead on a 26-yarder by Stover.

Stover added another 28-yarder with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, and the way both defenses were playing, that looked as if it might be enough even after a Reed field goal cut the lead to three with less than 10 minutes remaining. But the Steelers saved their best for last - the only touchdown of the game.

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