Commentary: Typical Ravens-Steelers game

It seems as if Baltimore Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers games all follow the same script.

Low-scoring, big hits and lots of injuries. Sunday's game followed the script. At first, it didn't seem as if it would.

It began unconventionally. Byron Leftwich shocked the Baltimore Ravens with a 31-yard touchdown run just 43 seconds into the game.

Jacoby Jones returned the favor by scoring on a 67-yard punt return late in the first quarter, surprising the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It looked like an atypical Ravens-Steelers game.

For the five seasons of the John Harbaugh era, the two teams have generally played excruciatingly close, low-scoring games.

Except for last season's opener when Baltimore dismantled Pittsburgh by 28 points. this series has featured taut games with plays late in the game that turned the games.

"It's never pretty," Harbaugh said. "Three points. Isn't that what these things usually are?"

That 2011 game caused Harbaugh to become giddy, and the generally tight-lipped coach sang along with the home crowd as they warbled the Seven Nation Army tune.

When he's playing the Steelers, Harbaugh is usually too busy watching Joe Flacco pull out a late win or Antonio Brown surprise him with a long pass or Santonio Holmes score on a disputed play.

By the end of the first quarter on Sunday night, it was apparent. Those tight Ravens-Steelers games were back.

The protagonists of so many of these matchups, Ray Lewis and Ben Roethlisberger, were out.

Roethlisberger was replaced by Leftwich. The 32-year-old was once a rising NFL star, but that was long ago.

Leftwich's career as a starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars was brief, about 3½ seasons, ending in October 2006.

He hadn't started an NFL game since Sept. 27, 2009, and played against the Ravens for only the third time.

Leftwich's last game against Baltimore was a 30-3 win on Nov. 13, 2005.

His rust showed when he was forced to call two timeouts late in the third quarter.

In the end, Leftwich couldn't rally Pittsburgh and Baltimore hung on.

"I think these teams play very similar styles, two great running teams, always two good defenses," Harbaugh said. "It's a great rivalry. It's the essence of this rivalry."

The Ravens and Steelers play again in two weeks at M&T Bank Stadium. In between, there's an unpleasant trip to San Diego where Baltimore plays the careening Chargers.

"It's like halftime. We won the first half and the second half is coming up soon," Harbaugh said. "Now our focus goes obviously to San Diego. We have a long trip out there. We haven't played well there recently.

"This game is in the rear view mirror, but it will quickly go to the front view mirror."

The rest of December features a bus trip to Landover where they'll have their first look at Robert Griffin III, home games against the Broncos and Giants and a regular-season ending trip to Cincinnati.

With this win, the Ravens are 8-2 with a two-game lead in the AFC North. Their playoff chances are terrific.

Another win against the Steelers, regardless of what happens in San Diego, would seemingly secure the division and at least one home game.

The Ravens are 5-0 at home and 3-2 on the road. With the Steelers, Broncos and Giants, a repeat of last year's unblemished record at home is unlikely, but this win away from home in Pittsburgh, was huge.

Roethlisberger can make all the right noises about being ready in two weeks, but it might not matter.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun