- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 1, 2009

OWINGS MILLS, Md. | Now that they’re back in the middle of the playoff hunt, the Baltimore Ravens hope their experience in close games will prove beneficial over the final five weeks of the season.

Baltimore’s five losses have come by a total of 23 points, including three defeats by three points or fewer. The Ravens’ tendency of coming up short had become a concern until Sunday night, when they rallied in the fourth quarter and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 20-17 in overtime.

Asked if all those close games could be advantageous to a team, coach John Harbaugh said Monday: “If they are, we’re going to be in good shape. We’ve had plenty of those. We know how to play in a tight game, and winning a tight game against that kind of a team was huge for us.”

Denver (7-4) currently has the edge over Baltimore (6-5), Pittsburgh (6-5) and Jacksonville (6-5) in the AFC wild-card race, but the Ravens’ 30-7 win over Denver gives them the tiebreaker over the Broncos.

Even though the Steelers used third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon and were without star safety Troy Polamalu, Baltimore needed a gutsy fourth-quarter drive and an interception in overtime to win.

“We knew it was going to come down to the wire,” Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. “Last year, we lost games in the last 10 seconds. This time, we came out and made some good plays. We kept our composure as a team and we did great, no matter what the circumstances were.”

After Dixon’s 24-yard touchdown run put Pittsburgh up 17-14 with 6:32 left, Ravens fans began getting that familiar squeamish feeling. Things got worse when Baltimore found itself in a third-and-22 situation on its own 29. But Joe Flacco completed a 17-yard pass to Derrick Mason, then hooked up with running back Ray Rice for a 44-yard gain on fourth down to set up the game-tying field goal by Billy Cundiff.

Harbaugh initially considered punting on fourth down but opted instead to take a chance - much to Lewis’ delight.

“Let it ride,” the linebacker said. “We have one of the most electric young weapons on offense in the game in Ray Rice. When you’ve got that kind of weapon, use it.”

In overtime, an interception by rookie Paul Kruger set up Cundiff’s game-winning kick with 6:42 remaining.

“This was big. There’s no denying it,” Harbaugh said of the victory. “It was the Steelers, they’re in our division, they’re our rival.”

Next up for the Ravens: a trip to Green Bay on Monday night. Since style points don’t count, another ugly victory would suit Baltimore just fine.

“Our goal right now is just to win the game, no matter what it looks like, or what goes on in between, the first quarter, the fourth quarter,” said receiver Mark Clayton, who had seven catches for 129 yards.

Playing on Monday night will enable Flacco to give his nagging sprained right ankle an extra day to heal. The injury, which initially occurred in Minnesota on Oct. 18, has cut down his mobility in the pocket.

“I think Joe’s done a heck of a job fighting through it,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not a major injury but I’m sure it’s bothersome for a quarterback to have that foot a little bit sore.”

Flacco insisted after the game that his ankle was fine. His numbers - 23-for-35, 289 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions - seemed to back up that assessment.

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