Jameel McClain

Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain makes a tackle in the first half against the Steelers. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun / October 20, 2013)

Jameel McClain loves to defy the odds, overcoming a bout with homelessness as a teenager growing up in Philadelphia before earning a football scholarship to Syracuse.

The veteran weak-side inside linebacker conquered another obstacle Sunday, starting his first game in 10 months since returning from a spinal cord contusion suffered last December.

Since getting hurt against the Washington Redskins last year, McClain was told by at least one doctor that he would never play football again. However, he was on the field in Sunday's 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I waited a long time for this moment," McClain said. "My vision was something different than what happened. On a personal note, it's good I was able to get the opportunity to go back out there when it wasn't believed it was possible. On a team note, it's very disappointing. It's not even sweet. It's bitter.

"We lost, so I played bad. You can't play good when you lose. It's a bad feeling. It's tough, man. It's like a nightmare come true."

McClain lined up in the base defense next to middle linebacker Daryl Smith with rookie second-round draft pick Arthur Brown operating on obvious passing downs. McClain appeared to have no difficulties physically, recording five tackles.

"I didn't have no setbacks," McClain said. "That's the biggest thing, no injuries. I got to get the feel for it again and everything is normal for me. I just played football.

"It felt great. It was exactly what I wanted. I wanted the chance to hit someone and see how my body would respond. I played with no hesitation."

Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed that McClain emerged unscathed, an encouraging sign.

"He didn't have any problems," Harbaugh said. "It seemed like he played well. We'll watch the tape and see, but for him to be back is a big bonus for us going forward."

Onsides kick unsuccessful

An aggressive decision backfired on the Ravens in the fourth quarter when kicker Justin Tucker's onside kick didn't travel the required 10 yards and dribbled into Steelers linebacker Vince Williams' hands.

The play was designed for Tucker to recover the footballbut didn't work out as planned. It wound up leading to a Steelers field goal.

"It was one of those calculated risk plays," Tucker said. "Their center on kick return made a good play and hit me right as I was making contact with the ball. We're trying to steal a possession and give our offense the ball with good field position.

"No one is going to question our stones, ever. We're playing to win the game. We're not into moral victories."

It was also a painful experience for Tucker.

While trying to recover the loose football, Tucker was struck in the ear hole. The hit required Tucker to get treated for a cut on his left ear.

"I just cut my ear, no stitches," Tucker said. "It probably looked a lot worse than it was, just a little blood."

Rough drive for Dumervil

Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil had a penalty-filled series in the third quarter, flagged three times with one of them declined.