By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun
November 19, 2012
-- The latest star turn in Ravens return specialist Jacoby Jones' stellar season unfolded Sunday night as he bolted into the end zone on a punt return for a touchdown.
Jones' 63-yard first-quarter score during a pivotal 13-10 AFC North victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field marks his third return for a score this season, and his second in the past two games.
The speedy 6-foot-2, 220-pounder twisted and turned up the left sideline, eluding tacklers before breaking away from the defense for good when he reversed field and outran defenders to reach the right corner of the end zone.
Jones celebrated in trademark fashion with an elaborate, exuberant dance in the end zone.
"We've been emphasizing punt returns because we already got two kickoff returns," Jones said. "As soon as Josh Bynes pushed his guy out and I got up in the seams, daylight opened up. We've been working on it real hard and it hit like it did in practice. The boys did a good job of blocking, and I did what I do best and that's run as fast as possible.
"As soon as I called it, I paused so they could get down and get on their blocks. I started one way and Josh did a great job of pushing his guy off when I got inside. They were trying to get outside the wall, but I saw nothing but open field to the right, so I thought: 'Why not go this way?'"
This touchdown follows Jones returning a kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown a week ago during a 55-20 rout of the Oakland Raiders, and being named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for the second time this season.
Jones said there was little chance Steelers rookie punter Drew Butler would catch up with him in pursuit, saying: "People in hell have snow cones," when asked if the punter had a chance to chase him down.
Signed to a two-year, $7 million contract during the spring, the former Houston Texans starter tied an NFL record for longest kickoff return with a 108-yard score against the Dallas Cowboys.
"Go out there and vote for Jacoby for the Pro Bowl," said Anthony Allen, Jones' primary blocking back. "He's a returner, he's one of the best in the game. He can kick return or punt returner with the best of them."
Jones has never been named to the Pro Bowl before, but indicated heading into this game that he plans to bring a large entourage to Hawaii with him if he's named to the AFC squad.
That includes Jones' mother, Allen and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.
"If it happens, I'm taking everybody," Jones said Sunday. "Lets all go to Hawaii, but I've got my eyes on the Super Bowl."
Jones said his latest dance is called the "Choppa City Juke," mixed with a dance borrowed by Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown.
"Jacoby should be on Dancing With The Stars," Allen said. "He comes up with something different every week."
Jones averaged 33 yards per punt return against the Steelers, including the touchdown while executing four fair catches.
He returned two kickofs for 58 yards.
"Jacoby Jones came up big again," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's been huge. He's the best dancer on the team, too. I'm proud of Jacoby, I'm proud of the special teams. Those are the hidden points that mkae differences in games."
Pitta sidelined with concussion
Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta got knocked out of the game with concussion symptoms sustained during the first quarter.
Pitta went to the locker room to be examined after being shaken up on a tackle by free safety Ryan Clark and linebacker Lawrence Timmons.
Pitta was also examined during the Oakland game, but managed to return and caught five passes for 67 yards with one touchdown.
For the season, Pitta has 38 receptions for 381 yards and three touchdowns. That includes one reception for five yards against Pittsburgh.
Steelers running back Isaac Redman (Bowie State) left the game with a concussion and defensive lineman Ziggy Hood left with a back injury.
Out of football since being cut during the offseason by the Raiders, newly-minted Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson got up to speed in a hurry on the basic details of defensive coordinator Dean Pees' playbook.
Signed to a one-year, $825,000 contract last Tuesday following a successful tryout, Johnson was able to put that knowledge to use against the Steelers as he forced a fumble that led to 26-yard Justin Tucker field goal.
Johnson left the game after tweaking his hamstring, but indicated it wasn't serious and wasn't limping after the game in the locker room.
"I came down wrong," Johnson said. "It's all good. It's just strained a little bit."
Johnson, 33, entered the game cornerback in the second defensive series when the Ravens came out in the nickel package, lining up outside as Corey Graham shifted inside to play the slot receiver.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pounder stripped wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders from behind with free safety Ed Reed picking up the loose football and returning it 17 yards to the Steelers' 12-yard line.
"I've been doing this for a long time," said Johnson, who has eight career interceptions. "I take boxing lessons, so that's a jab from me. Once I seen him cut across my face, I just wanted to get my hands in there and I knew I knocked the ball out."
Reid gets the start
Left offensive guard Jah Reid started the first game of his NFL career one week after playing all but two series against the Raiders in relief of veteran Bobbie Williams.
The 6-foot-7, 330-pounder worked almost exclusively with the first-team offense during practice last week.
Although Reid delivered a solid block a week ago against the Raiders on Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice's touchdown run, he faltered early in the game against Pittsburgh.
Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel got past Reid with a quick move to deck Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the first half.
"I want to acknowledge the first play was terrible," Reid said. "I had some good plays and bad plays. I played hard. Hopefully, I didn't disappoint the coaches. I'll give Keisel credit.
"It wasn't a missed assignment. He just beat me fair and square. I learned from it and I tried not to let it hapepn again in the game."
Williams said he feels confident he'll get another chance at some point this season.
"You know what, they wanted to make sure everything is rested up," Williams said. "They wanted to let Jah get the opportunity. Absolutely, there will be more opportunities for me."
Big game for Graham
Starting his second game in a row with cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined following sports hernia surgery, Corey Graham intercepted Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich once.
He also recorded eight tackles and a game-high three pass deflections.
"Corey Graham came up big," Harbaugh said. "He played really well."
Added Graham: "That's how it is. When you have injuries, the next guy has to step up and I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play with Ed Reed and Chykie Brown and you just got to step up and make plays. The game's not going to stop, and the team's not going to stop. We have to find a way to fit in and find a way to get it done."
The Pro Bowl special-teams ace also delivered a big hit on unsuspecting Steelers tight end Heath Miller late in the game to help preserve the win.
"I tried to go out there and make plays, and I was fortunate," said Graham, who intercepted three passes last season with the Chicago Bears. "He didn't see me coming and instead of going for the ball, I went for the hit."
Meanwhile, backup safety James Ihedigbo delivered a punishing hit on his sack of Leftwich on a delay blitz.
"It was a zone pressure," Ihedigbo said. "I was supposed to come outside, and I saw it open up. I went for it and made a good play. That's what I'm here for, whatever I can do to make an impact. I was glad that I did and helped our team."
The Ravens' oft-maligned defense held the Steelers to 10 points as Leftwich completed just 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards and no touchdowns for a 51.3 quarterback rating.
The Steelers were held to 17 first downs and 311 yards of total offense, progress for a defense that has struggled to stop people this season.
"We got to find a way to go out there and get it done," Graham said. "We haven't been playing the best the last couple weeks, or the whole season some people say, but we have to find a way to get wins and that's what we were able to go out and do today."
R. Lewis in the house
Injured Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis made his presence felt on the sidelines, waving around his surgically-repaired right arm in a way that suggests his recovery is going well.
On injured reserve-designated to return, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year flew into Pittsburgh on Sunday to attend the game.
Before kickoff, Lewis exhorted his defensive teammates to get them fired up.
After the game heading into the locker room, Lewis said loudly: "That's how you finish."
Lewis could return at some point this season despite undergoing surgery for a torn right triceps suffered against the Cowboys.
The Ravens are hoping he can recover from his injury in time for the postseason.
Lewis has been spending time in Florida recuperating from his injury, but visited the Ravens during a practice at team headquarters recently and went to the Raiders game.
Homecoming for Gradkowski
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Ravens rookie center Gino Gradkowski played at Heinz Field when he was in high school.
And Gradkowski returned to his hometown Sunday night with roughly 30 family members and friends in the stands.
"My dad actually knows a guy with the Steelers, so he took care of the tickets," Gradkowski said Friday. "I'll be able to go home and see my family and have dinner, no [popular Pittsburgh sandwich shop] Primanti Brothers this time. My mom's going to cook. It's awesome to be able to come back to Pittsburgh as an NFL player for the first time. It's a really cool thing for me."
The Ravens scratched nose guard Terrence Cody due to an arm injury with Ma'ake Kemoeatu starting again. ... Starting left defensive end Pernell McPhee was deactivated because of right knee and thigh injuries, and Arthur Jones started in his place for the third game in a row. ... The Ravens also deactivated cornerback Jimmy Smith (sports hernia surgery), kick returner Deonte Thompson and cornerback Asa Jackson. ... The Ravens' game captains were Reed, Flacco and outside linebacker Albert McClellan. ... Baltimore won the coin toss and deferred. ... Several former Steelers legends were at the game for an alumni gathering, including retired wide receivers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Hines Ward as well as former running back Jerome Bettis and defensive linemen Joe Greene and L.C. Greenwood.
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