PITTSBURGH - If it's true that the outcome of a game hinges on one play, a costly penalty might have opened the door for the Ravens' 23-20 overtime loss to Pittsburgh Steelers last night at Heinz Field.
The Ravens led 13-3 in the second half, and their stifling defense seemed to have unsettled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the offense.
But shortly after Pittsburgh began its third series of the third quarter with 5:49 left, Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson was flagged for unnecessary roughness when he shoved wide receiver Hines Ward - who seemed to antagonize the Ravens throughout the game - at the end of Nate Washington's 8-yard gain on a reverse.
Three plays later, Roethlisberger completed a pass to receiver Santonio Holmes. Having beaten cornerback Fabian Washington, Holmes shrugged off a tackle by cornerback Chris McAlister and juked free safety Ed Reed to complete a 38-yard touchdown.
After the game, Johnson chastised himself for his mistake.
"Obviously, I can't have that penalty," said Johnson, who otherwise had a solid performance with five tackles, including one for a loss, one pass deflection and one quarterback hurry. "It kind of gave them life. I just lost my head. I didn't realize I wasn't on the field. It's something to learn from. ... It hurts."
The momentum shifted to Pittsburgh and its fans, who had even more reason to cheer when linebacker James Harrison sacked and forced rookie quarterback Joe Flacco to fumble. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley recovered the loose ball and returned the football 7 yards for a touchdown, capping a 14-point swing in a span of 15 seconds.
But Pittsburgh got a 46-yard field goal from Reed with 6:55 left in overtime to give the Ravens their first loss of the season and reassert the Steelers' claim as the leading contender to win the AFC North, which Pittsburgh captured last season.
Before Johnson's penalty, the defense seemed to have gotten into Roethlisberger's head. Linebackers Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs and cornerback Corey Ivy each sacked Roethlisberger.
After the game, coach John Harbaugh tried to downplay the effect of the penalty had on the outcome.
"It's just a situation where guys are intertwined and fighting a block and you're pushing a guy off a block and you lose track of where you are on the field," Harbaugh said. "He was a step or two out of bounds, so it was a good call. But it wasn't anything less than an effort play and they got us on it."