Ravens coach Brian Billick blamed the confusion on the heat of the moment.
It occurred shortly after the Ravens had tied up the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Stoney Case to Qadry Ismail with 1: 22 left. On the ensuing kickoff, the Ravens allowed a 37-yard return by Will Blackwell to midfield following a kickoff to the 13 by Matt Stover.
On the next play from scrimmage, the Ravens sent out nine players instead of 11 in their nickel coverage even though safety Corey Harris managed to get on the field by the snap.
Pittsburgh quarterback Kordell Stewart completed a 12-yard pass to Courtney Hawkins on the play and Kris Brown eventually kicked a 36-yard field goal as time expired for a 23-20 Pittsburgh win.
Billick spent part of yesterday finding out what happened. The one missing player was rookie cornerback Chris McAlister, who had come off the field as part of the kickoff team.
"There was some confusion as to who needed to be out there," Billick said. "We covered what we were going to do before the kickoff, and there was a lapse of memory. The individuals involved have to stay in tune with what's going on in the game. We didn't have enough people out there. We'll take steps to correct that so it doesn't happen again."
McAlister eventually joined the team in the series and said it wouldn't happen again. It was a black mark on an otherwise impressive rookie season.
"I was supposed to be out there," McAlister said. "After the kickoff, I went to get a drink of water and talk to the special teams coach. Most of the players on the kickoff team were meeting with him. It was my fault, because I thought the base defense was out there. It was one of those heat-of-the-moment things, a rookie mistake. It won't happen again, I guarantee you that."
Out pattern for Stokley
Rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley only wished he was out there on Sunday. But a week after catching the first touchdown pass of the regular season, Stokley became a victim of the numbers game, as the fourth-round draft pick was deactivated for the first time in his young career.
Teams must deactivate eight players each week and reduce their rosters to 45.
With Patrick Johnson returning to the lineup against the Steelers -- Johnson did not catch a pass on Sunday -- Billick decided to rest Stokley. Billick hinted that he probably would activate five of his six receivers on most game days. And with Ismail, Jermaine Lewis, Justin Armour and Billy Davis entrenched, either Stokley or Johnson usually will sit.
"I needed Patrick's speed [against Pittsburgh]. Billy Davis right now is probably our single best special teams player. And there's a little duplication [in size] between Jermaine and Brandon," Billick said. "That's the battle we kind of fight every week with sheer numbers. But them's the rules."
Said Stokley: "I think it depends on what kind of a game plan [Billick] puts together as to which receivers are going to be in. Whatever he decides, you go with it."
J. Lewis, Holmes nicked up
Lewis will be re-evaluated today after getting hit in the lower back in the closing minutes of Sunday's game. The wide receiver reported some stiffness in the same area where he suffered back spasms early in training camp. He could practice tomorrow.
The same goes for running back Priest Holmes, whose sprained medial collateral knee ligament did not worsen after he saw brief action early against the Steelers.
"Priest has good strength in [the right knee]. There doesn't appear to be any swelling. It's truly a day-to-day thing," said Ravens head trainer Bill Tessendorf.
"There's nothing I can do about it. The leg is not stable," Holmes said. "There's only so much the brace can do, as far as keeping it from moving. I can play, but as far as being 100 percent, I'm not there."
Another significant question mark for the Cleveland game is linebacker Tyrell Peters, who suffered a pulled hamstring on kickoff coverage duty. Besides being considered as a key player on special teams, Peters is the backup to middle linebacker Ray Lewis.
Graham waits his turn
Running back Jay Graham came into this season -- his third as a pro -- expecting it to be his breakthrough year.
So far he has not had the chance.
While Billick has used two different quarterbacks, two running backs, three tight ends and four receivers, Graham found himself on the inactive list against Pittsburgh.
"Jay just got into a numbers crunch right now," Billick said. "It is a frustrating thing for a coach. You have a guy and you work him all week long, you are paying him and then you sit him down on Sunday. It just defies all common sense to me. Jay is working hard and he'll get his opportunity at some point."
He may see his first action Sunday against Cleveland with Holmes hurting.
If Holmes is able to go Sunday and Graham is inactive again, he insists that he will not be upset, and that he is content to wait until he gets his chance.
"The biggest thing to do is to stay upbeat," Graham said. "If you start pouting about playing time, you'll never get any better."
Harnessed Boulware gains
Linebacker Peter Boulware leads the Ravens with two sacks this season even though his shoulder still limits his number of plays.
Boulware has seen most of his action in passing situations with Cornell Brown starting. He sacked Stewart on a third-and-one from the Baltimore 5 with five minutes left in the third quarter.
"He's better than the week before," Billick said. "More aggressive. Feeling better about it. He's not quite there yet. He came through the game healthy to my knowledge and that is another step forward in the progression."
Boulware did miss another potential sack against Stewart earlier in the game that could have been because of his shoulder, which is restricted by a harness.
"I've got to deal with it," Boulware said. "Hopefully we'll get to the point where I was last year. It is not 100 percent. But the more I play, the more confident I get."
Boulware said the health of his shoulder is the last thing on his mind when he is on the field. "You want to be as natural as you can, but the harness is there."
Sun staff writer Mike Preston contributed to this article.