Ravens lead Steelers 20-9 after third quarter
PITTSBURGH (AP) Joe Flacco's 11-yard touchdown pass to Torrey Smith and Justin Tucker's 45-yard field goal helped the Baltimore Ravens extend their lead to 20-9 over the Pittsburgh Steelers through three quarters of their AFC wild-card game Saturday night.
Flacco bought himself time in the pocket and barely eluded Steelers linebacker James Harrison before firing his TD strike to Smith in the back left corner of the end zone with 4:13 left in the third.
The Ravens are trying to end a three-game losing streak in the postseason to their bitter AFC North rivals.
Clinging to a 10-9 lead at the half, Baltimore, helped by a pass interference call against Pittsburgh cornerback Antwon Blake, extended its lead on Tucker's 45-yard field goal with 10:06 left in the third.
The Steelers, meanwhile, were not clicking.
Playing without injured Pro Bowl running back Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers couldn't establish anything on the ground and Ben Roethlisberger was forced to throw more than normal. The third quarter ended with Roethlisberger being sacked for a 12-yard loss by Elvis Dumervil a play that summed up Pittsburgh's frustration.
The Steelers drove the ball in the first half, but couldn't score a TD and had to settle for field goals of 45, 22 and 47 yards by Shaun Suisham.
Bernard Pierce's 5-yard TD run and Tucker's 28-yard field goal gave the Ravens a 10-9 lead at halftime.
Pierce blasted into the end zone with 12:28 left in the second quarter for the Ravens, who came up with three sacks to slow Pittsburgh drives.
The Steelers and Ravens, who have developed a blood feud and deep distaste for each other over the past 20 years, are meeting for the fourth time in the playoffs. The Steelers have won all three previous meetings, most recently on Jan. 15, 2011, in a division playoff matchup when they rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit to win 31-24 and eventually advanced to the Super Bowl.
As is always the case when these teams clash, there were plenty of extra shoves and pushes following the whistle. Steelers linebacker Jason Worilds appeared to throw a punch during one skirmish, but was only penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct, luckily escaping a possible ejection.
Roethlisberger completed 18 of 24 passes for 183 yards in the first half. He twice drove the Steelers inside Baltimore's 35-yard line in the opening quarter, but he was sacked and Pittsburgh had to settle for Suisham's 45-yarder to take the early lead.
In the second quarter, Pittsburgh, helped by a 12-men-on-the-field penalty on fourth down against Baltimore, got inside the Ravens 10 but Roethlisberger was sacked by Brandon Williams to push the Steelers back.
Suisham's 47-yard kick with 37 seconds left brought Pittsburgh within 10-9.
The Steelers controlled the clock in the opening half, holding the ball for 20:55 to Baltimore's 9:05.
Pittsburgh dominated the opening 15 minutes, holding the ball for 12:03 to Baltimore's 2:57. But the Ravens defense came up with big plays when it needed as nose tackle Haloti Ngata and Dumervil sacked Roethlisberger.
Bell, the team's MVP after rushing for 1,361 yards, was out after hyperextending his right knee while taking a hit last week against Cincinnati. The loss of Bell he only gained 20 yards rushing in Pittsburgh's 43-23 win over Baltimore on Nov. 2 forced Roethlisberger to throw more.
In the first half, he passed Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw's franchise record for career postseason completions.
Ben Tate, who was signed earlier this week, started for Bell and picked up 17 yards on the Steelers' first series. Tate was released earlier this season by both Cleveland and Minnesota, but found himself in the postseason.
After winning the coin toss, the Steelers drove to Baltimore's 34 before they bogged down and had to punt. On their next possession, the Steelers got to the Ravens 20 but Roethlisberger threw an incompletion and Dri Archer was thrown for a 1-yard loss by Terrell Suggs, and Dumervil dropped Roethlisberger for a 6-yard loss.
The Ravens (10-6), appearing in the playoffs for sixth time in seven years under coach John Harbaugh. He was visited before the game by his brother, Jim, San Francisco's former coach who was hired by Michigan this week.
While the Steelers have to compensate without Bell, Baltimore's defense got a boost with the return of Ngata, who was activated Friday after serving a four-game league suspension for taking Adderall and violating the performance-enhancing drug policy. The Ravens went 3-1 without the 340-pound Ngata, but his presence and playoff experience are invaluable.
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