Kevin Gorman’s Take 5: 2nd-year players help Steelers beat Ravens
BALTIMORE - The Pittsburgh Steelers won’t call it a revenge tour, but they have bounced back from a poor start to run the AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens were their third consecutive division victim on Sunday in a 23-16 victory at M&T Bank Stadium, following wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Cleveland Browns.
This one had a little bit of everything, especially from the Steelers’ second-year stars.
Everything except for, of course, Le’Veon Bell.
1. Inaction Jackson: The Ravens have an X-factor in quarterback Lamar Jackson, their first-round pick who has been dangerous in short-yardage and red-zone situations.
Apparently, he’s invisible in the pass game.
On third-and-goal at the Steelers’ 5, Jackson went in motion and was wide open. But Flacco never looked to his right, throwing instead out of the end zone. The Ravens had to settle for a 23-yard field goal by Justin Tucker and a 3-0 lead.
Jackson would factor into another red-zone failure for the Ravens in the second quarter, as Steelers nickel cornerback Mike Hilton tackled him for a 1-yard loss on third-and-2 at the 4, forcing the Ravens to settle for another 23-yard field goal by Tucker.
2. Catch me if you can: Speaking of invisible, James Conner had nine carries for 19 yards in the first meeting with the Ravens, a 26-14 loss on Sept. 30 at Heinz Field.
This time, Conner had nine carries for 70 yards - in the first half.
More impressive was Conner’s effectiveness in the pass game. His first touch came on a swing pass for a 5-yard gain.
Conner gave the Steelers a 7-3 lead with his first career touchdown reception, a 5-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 1 minute, 3 seconds left in the first quarter. It was Conner’s 10th touchdown, making him the first Steelers player to score that many through the first eight games of a season.
Conner also had a 17-yard catch to set up Antonio Brown’s 6-yard touchdown that gave the Steelers a 14-3 second-quarter lead.
Conner finished the first half with five catches for 42 yards to lead the Steelers in receiving through the first two quarters.
Safe to say, the Steelers’ running back job is in good hands.
3. Rude introduction: This was the first Steelers-Ravens game for Steelers strong safety Morgan Burnett, who has only played three games this season because of a groin injury.
The Ravens went right at Burnett. On the first series, on a third-and-9 at the 26, Joe Flacco threw a 20-yard pass to tight end Mark Andrews. On the second series, Flacco found Chris Moore over the middle. Moore made a spectacular catch over Burnett for a 30-yard gain to the Steelers’ 25.
But the greatest gaffe came in the third quarter when Burnett was penalized for pass interference on a third-and-10 throw intended for Andrews at the Steelers’ 1. Alex Collins scored on a 1-yard run on the next play to cut the Ravens’ deficit to 20-13.
4. Big (Ben) scare: The Steelers had to hold their breaths twice on their first possession of the second half.
The first one came when Roethlisberger ran toward the Steelers’ sideline, only to be caught from behind by Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith and slammed to the turf.
Big Ben gave a scare when he stayed down.
That forced backup Josh Dobbs into the game. What’s worse, left tackle Alejandro Villanueva drew a holding penalty on Roethlisberger’s run, giving the Steelers a second-and-20 at their own 5.
Then Dobbs dropped back to pass.
Dobbs fired his first NFL pass over the middle to JuJu Smith-Schuster for a 22-yard gain.
That play breathed life back into the Steelers.
Roethlisberger returned for the next play, handing off to Conner for a 1-yard gain. Then came the biggest surprise: Roethlisberger threw a 51-yard pass down the right sideline to tight end Jesse James, who bobbled the ball before hauling it in.
The Steelers, however, settled for a 29-yard field goal by Chris Boswell and a 23-13 lead with 8:26 remaining.
5. When in doubt: The Steelers got big plays from second-year players Conner, Dobbs and Smith-Schuster, but with the outcome hanging in the balance, Big Ben went with the tried and true.
The Ravens had cut the Steelers’ lead to 23-16 on a Justin Tucker 37-yard field goal, and the Steelers had a third-and-5 at their 30 when Roethlisberger lined up in the shotgun.
Antonio Brown got an inside step on Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who was having a fantastic game, on a crossing route and caught a pass for an 8-yard gain with 3:31 remaining.
Brown already had set a Steelers record for most touchdown catches through the first eight games (nine), extending his streak to six consecutive games with a touchdown reception.
But Brown is at his best when the Steelers need him to come up in the clutch, and that was the play that sealed the victory.
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