As Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said after last night's game, moral victories are little consolation. When an important win is so close as last night's 23-20 overtime loss to Pittsburgh, it's natural to go through the what-ifs and linebacker Jarret Johnson is getting his share of the heat for his foolish personal foul against Hines Ward that shifted the momentum at a point when Baltimore was in control of the game.
But an ongoing problem last night that both held back the Ravens and eventually proved fatal was in the return game. Perhaps it was the Ravens' special teams strategy to allow Yamon Figurs to return kickoffs regardless of how deep into the end zone they sailed. Or maybe, he was simply overconfident. On the Steelers' first two kickoffs of the game, Figurs took the ball four-yards deep both times. On neither occasion did he get to the 20-yard line, putting the Ravens' offense in the hole at the 16- and the 12-yard lines. The first possession was a three-and-out and the Ravens managed one first down on their second drive. Fortunately for Baltimore, neither time did the bad field position result in Steelers points but it certainly didn't help the offense get into the flow.
Then, in the second quarter, Figurs muffed a punt. The Ravens recovered but in the aftermath of the play, Ravens special teamer Brendon Ayanbadejo was called for unnecessary roughness which again put the Ravens inside their own 20 at the 18-yard line.
For the rest of regulation, the return game wasn't a disaster but there was nothing special, either -- short punt returns and punts allowed to bounce and be downed. But then at the beginning of overtime, Figurs finally came up with a return that could have given the Ravens a short field off the opening kickoff. But this time, double holding penalties (naturally, only one was enforced) on Haruki Nakamura and Antwan Barnes put the ball on the Ravens' 15-yard line. Baltimore didn't get a first down and the Steelers converted their own ensuing good field position, starting at their 43-yard line, into a 46-yard winning field goal.
To be fair to special teams, the Ravens' kicking game was a major contributor -- punter Sam Koch was outstanding and Matt Stover was 2-for-2 on field goals -- but the flip side of the kicking game hardly covered itself in glory.