PITTSBURGH // In a season filled with embarrassing losses and unexpected slipups, the Ravens can now add bitter disappointment.
Despite their best showing of the year, the Ravens still fell to the Pittsburgh Steelers, 20-19, last night before 64,178 at Heinz Field and a national television audience.
Jeff Reed's 37-yard field goal that split the uprights with 1:36 left in the fourth quarter dashed the Ravens' chances of an unlikely win over their division rival.
The game-winner came less than two minutes after Matt Stover had kicked a 47-yard field goal to give the Ravens their first lead of the game.
The loss was the Ravens' seventh straight on the road and dropped them to 2-5, their worst start since 1999. The Ravens are tied for last place in the AFC North, 3 1/2 games behind the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Steelers (5-2) improved to 11-0 in Monday night home games under coach Bill Cowher, but they needed to sweat this one out after walking onto the field as 11 1/2 -point favorites.
"There are no moral victories in the NFL," said Ravens coach Brian Billick. "You win or you lose, and we lost. But I've never been prouder to be part of a group of men than these guys. That's what this game was about tonight."
With five starters out - including former Defensive Players of the Year Ray Lewis and Ed Reed - the Ravens hung around with a resilient defense, a resurgent passing game and uncharacteristic mistakes by Pittsburgh.
The Ravens' biggest break seemed to have come with 5:48 left in the game and the Steelers leading 17-16. Rookie Greg Warren inexplicably snapped the ball early on a punt, and it deflected off the legs of Sean Morey.
"It's a first," Cowher said. "But we were holding them to field goals rather than touchdowns and got a chance to win it in the end."
Punter Chris Gardocki picked up the ball and threw incompletion, giving the Ravens possession at the Pittsburgh 45-yard line.
On second down, just before getting hit, Ravens quarterback Anthony Wright threw a high pass that was pulled in by receiver Derrick Mason. The 15-yard catch moved the Ravens to the Steelers' 30. But as the Ravens had done all game, they stalled and had to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown.
The Ravens drove inside the Pittsburgh 30 six times and came away with just one touchdown. The lowest-scoring team in the NFL, the Ravens were held to one or no touchdowns for the sixth time this season.
"We got up ahead and that wasn't enough," left guard Edwin Mulitalo said of the stalled drives. "So, of course, that falls on us."
After Stover's fourth and final field goal, the Steelers got a series of big plays: a 14-yard pass to Antwaan Randle El, a 23-yard pass to Quincy Morgan and an 11-yard run by Jerome Bettis. That led to the game-winner, which Reed nailed despite facing the often-treacherous open end of the stadium.
The Ravens' final chance to win ended when Wright's fourth-and-six pass from his 47-yard line fell through Chester Taylor's hands and the Steelers ran out the clock.
Some of the players credited their effort from the excitement of playing on Monday night, and others pointed to a pre-game pep talk from owner Steve Bisciotti.
"I think that got us all pumped up," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He wanted to win as much as anybody in the locker room. We were missing some pretty big guys, but I think we did a darned good job against them."
The Ravens have lost nine of their past 13 games dating back to last season, but this was the closest they have come to upsetting a winning team.
"I've been talking about the character of these guys for quite awhile and I think you saw it tonight," Billick said. "It is something we can and will build on."
Although they had the lead for just 1:45, the Ravens seemingly outplayed Pittsburgh for most of the game.
The Ravens had more yards (318 to 261), had the edge in time of possession (31:04 to 28:56) and converted a higher rate of third downs (50 percent to 33 percent).
The difference was how the Steelers started the game and the second half, beginning with touchdown drives each time.
In those scoring possessions, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 13-for-14 for 112 yards. The rest of the game, he was 5-for-16 for 65 yards.
"Our players know this is still Baltimore," Cowher said. "They still have some good players, and their coach challenged them and they responded."
The first quarter was the one time that the Ravens matched the Steelers with a touchdown.
After the Steelers' 8 1/2 -minute marathon drive, the Ravens were jump-started with a 31-yard pass to Derrick Mason and scored when they converted a third-and-12 at the Steelers' 13-yard line.
Wright eluded a pass rush to find Taylor, who caught the ball at the 10 and leaped high to break the plane of the goal line.
Taylor's first touchdown of the season tied the game at 7 with 1:54 left in the first quarter and ended the Ravens' 20-drive, seven-quarter rut without a touchdown. The Ravens had just one first-quarter touchdown in their first six games.
Early in the second quarter, a Jamal Lewis fumble set up a 42-yard field goal by Jeff Reed, which put Pittsburgh ahead 10-7.
The Ravens came back again on the strength of the passing game, but had to settle for a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 10 because Wright threw incomplete over the middle on third down when Mason was open on the right side of the end zone.
Dale Carter forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, putting the momentum firmly on the Ravens' side. But after taking over a the Steelers' 29, the Ravens could manage only 4 yards.
Stover's 43-yarder into the open end of Heinz Field hit the right upright, and the Ravens failed to take their first lead of the game. It ended Stover's streak of 10 straight field goals.
The Ravens opened the second half by giving the ball back to the Steelers. Off a trick play, Wright threw to receiver Randy Hymes, who had single coverage downfield, but was intercepted by safety Chris Hope.
Pittsburgh then went on another long drive that mirrored its first drive of the game. Roethlisberger got hot again by connecting on all six of his passes, including the last four in a row of the 10-play drive.
His 8-yard touchdown pass to Miller put the Steelers ahead 17-10 with 7:47 left in the third quarter.
On cue, the Ravens answered with a 17-play, 63-yard drive in which they converted three third downs and one fourth down. But instead of a touchdown, the Ravens could only produce a field goal.
Stover's 40-yarder moved the Ravens within 17-13 a minute into the fourth quarter.
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