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5. There is no question the Ravens earned this win and it would be disrespectful to put an asterisk on it, but the outcome may be different if Ben Roethlisberger is healthy next time.
Not long after the Ravens ran down the tunnel at Heinz Field -- some of them wearing Terrible Towels on their heads -- I started getting bombarded on my Twitter feed with excuses from Pittsburgh Steelers fans, who tried to imply that the Ravens hadn't really earned a victory. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in the days leading up to the Ravens' 13-10 win on Sunday that "excuses are tools for the incompetent." The Steelers didn't use those tools and played another hard-fought game with the Ravens, but backup quarterback Byron Leftwich, who took a pounding and whose teammates said was in a lot of pain throughout the game, lamented the many opportunities he bounced off the grass Sunday. In the Steelers locker room afterward, injured starter Ben Roethlisberger, who spent the game in gray sweats on the sideline, was nowhere to be seen, but his grisly mug was the elephant in the locker room.
The Ravens allowed 5 yards per carry to the Steelers, 31 of which came on Leftwich's first-quarter touchdown run, but they defended the pass well, holding Leftwich to about 5 yards per throw. The Steelers missed Roethlisberger the most on third down, when the Ravens allowed them to convert just five of 17 opportunities. Instead of shrugging off defenders and slipping out of the pocket, Leftwich was mostly stationary -- after his unbelievable touchdown run -- as the Ravens teed off on him. His teammates praised him for his toughness. Offensive tackle Max Starks called Leftwich "a tiger," but those hits took their toll.
The Steelers haven't said when Roethlisberger might return from a sprained throwing shoulder and a dislocated rib he said threatened to puncture his aorta. But knowing him and knowing how badly the Steelers need a win to gain ground on the first-place Ravens in the AFC North, I am already envisioning Roethlisberger revising his famous horror movie villain routine, and I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers rolled him out onto the field in a straitjacket like Hannibal Lector in "Silence of the Lambs." The Steelers would likely pose an even greater challenge than they did Sunday, when this rivalry game went down to the wire once again. But a win won't be guaranteed for them if Roethlisberger does return, especially considering how well the Ravens play while defending their home turf. Plus, the good news is that if the Ravens beat him, too, we won't have to hear any excuses from Steelers fans as they sharpen those tools for the incompetent.
November 19, 2012