A tough spot is not reason for tough loss

The Baltimore Sun

The noble, sportsmanlike statement to make was the one Ray Lewis made in the most somber post-game Ravens' locker room at M&T; Bank Stadium this season. "That," he said, "didn't win or lose the game for us."

Except "that" might have done exactly that.

Deride the Ravens for allowing the Pittsburgh Steelers to march 92 yards in the final 3 1/2 minutes, with the season on the line, and the record home crowd and a supposedly impenetrable defense on their side. They sure deserve it.

Ninety-one and 92 yards, however, are not the same thing. The end zone and the 1-yard line are not the same, and overtime and a loss in regulation are not the same.

Now the AFC North is gone, and as angry at everyone should be at the late collapse, they're also justified in pointing their anger at the refs and the NFL, which continues to get its rules loopholes and officiating weaknesses exposed. Because from the evidence at hand late last night, they blew it. You don't have to be wearing purple shades to see that.

Just as bad, referee Walt Coleman did a poor job explaining it. Then again, who can forget Coleman's clumsy explanation of the "Tuck Rule" seven years ago in the AFC playoff game in New England? A call that, for what it's worth, merely altered the course of NFL history, creating a dynasty that might never have been had the Oakland Raiders' Charles Woodson been given credit for stripping Tom Brady in the snow.

Anyway, in the announcement he made on the field last night, with the clock at 43 seconds and the score at 9-6 Ravens, Coleman was heard to say that Santonio Holmes caught the fateful pass with his feet in the end zone. End of story.

Except that afterward, to a pool reporter, Coleman said that replay showed that the ball barely broke the plane of the goal line, which he never mentioned on the field. Is that the deciding factor? Apparently, but that might be worth mentioning while he's telling everyone in the building which team's season is breathing fine and which one's playoff hopes are on life support.

And good luck to anyone besides Coleman finding the replay that shows that ball across the goal line.

Whatever the case, the Ravens were searching for explanations afterward and not getting any they could grasp. The scene was similar to the one last year after the Cleveland Browns' field goal to force overtime hit the uprights support, was initially waved off and then corrected.

Last night, John Harbaugh said he asked a game official for a clarification, "but no one was explaining too much at that point in time." He also said he thought breaking the plane was the determining factor. The players on the field couldn't tell. They said no one in black and white was telling them, either.

Otherwise, they kept their lips buttoned, unwilling to repeat the embarrassment of a year ago, when two debatable calls that helped the Patriots survive at M&T; Bank triggered a meltdown on-field and in the locker room, for which they were heavily fined.

Still, they pushed the idea that they cost themselves long before that call, and that the call did not lose the game. Sorry, but they're two separate issues.

Anything could have happened in overtime. Anything could have happened on that chip-shot field goal. Redemption was still possible, even after the ugliness of those first 91 yards.

That 1 yard more? With all due respect to Ray Lewis, it did win or lose the game for you. Maybe more than that.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).

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