First, the Ravens started losing the football. Then, they lost their lead and all their momentum. And finally, they seemed to lose their composure.
They now need to act fast to prevent their season from slipping away, too.
Six touchdown passes by Ben Roethlisberger and a disastrous second quarter were the difference in the Ravens’ ugly 43-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in front of an announced 63,971 at Heinz Field. The loss denied the Ravens of a season sweep of the Steelers (6-3) and left them in last place in the AFC North with a 5-4 record.
"Obviously they played much better than we did and deserved to win the game," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I am disappointed in us. We could've found the right plays better, especially toward the end, but we didn't."
The Ravens haven’t been in last place this late in the season since 2007, Brian Billick’s final one at the helm. But after dropping back-to-back road games to the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh, they are now looking up at everybody, including the Cleveland Browns (5-3), and dealing with myriad issues that arise every time they play a quality opponent on the road, where they are 2-3 this season.
"We just did what we had to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They beat us by 20 at their place. We evened the score. We won by 20 tonight, and we will move on."
The Ravens' offense remains inconsistent and mistake-prone, and the Joe Flacco-led group was held without a touchdown for a 51-minute stretch of the game before rookie Crockett Gillmore’s 1-yard touchdown reception with just less than 3 minutes to play.
Flacco was sacked four times, intercepted once and the Ravens went just 3 of 13 on third down. Their defense started strong but wilted late amid a series of blown coverages and penalties. The Ravens called for 10 penalties for 108 yards, including several personal fouls.
Roethlisberger’s six touchdown passes set a career high in 18 career games against the Ravens. He finished 25 of 37 for 340 yards. In his past three games, Roethlisberger has 14 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Jacoby Jones’ 108-yard kickoff return touchdown early in the fourth quarter cut the Steelers’ lead to 29-17. But Roethlisberger answered immediately by hitting Martavis Bryant for an 18-yard touchdown pass. It was Bryant’s second touchdown of the night.
Roethlisberger later added a 33-yard touchdown pass to tight end Matt Spaeth -- his sixth of the game -- just after the two-minute warning in the fourth quarter.
"You could have never sold me that during the week, even though he did it last week," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said about Roethlisberger's six touchdown passes. "He had a [heck] of a day. That’s a reflection on us all. You got to go out there and you’ve got to stop him no matter the situation. We didn’t respond well when bad things started happening. We’ve just go to be better. We can’t be kidding ourselves anymore. We got to go to work."
The Ravens’ fate was pretty much sealed in the second quarter when they were outscored 22-3 after they had a 7-0 lead. Turnovers on back-to-back possessions -- a fumble by rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro and an interception by Flacco -- led to 14 points for the Steelers.
"A lot of things happened tonight that worry me, but thank God the NFL season is a marathon not a sprint," Suggs said. "We’ve got a lot of things to work on. It’s not just one particular thing. A loss like this, you’ve got to assess everything, and we’re going to do that."
The Ravens got off to about as good of a start as they could have hoped, especially defensively. The Steelers didn’t get a first down on their first three drives. They finally picked one up on Roethlisberger’s 13-yard completion to Antonio Brown at the 2:12 mark of the first quarter.
But that drive, which spanned the first and second quarters, ended when the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger on three consecutive plays. A first-and-10 on the Steelers’ 41 became a fourth-and-39 from their own 12 after an illegal hands to the face penalty on Pittsburgh, followed by three consecutive sacks by the Ravens.
In their first four possessions, the Steelers got the ball on their own 8-, 20-, 12- and 3-yard line. The Ravens, meanwhile, got the ball on their own 20 to start the game and then their next three possessions started on the Steelers’ 35 and then their own 41 and then 28-yard line.
However, the Ravens barely could take advantage. Following a 25-yard punt return by Jacoby Jones, Flacco needed just one play to get the Ravens into the end zone.
Taking advantage of one-on-one coverage on the outside, Flacco lofted a pass to wide receiver Torrey Smith, who ran by Brice McCain to catch the 35-yard touchdown. It was Smith’s fourth touchdown in as many games and it gave the Ravens a 7-0 lead.
The score remained 7-0 and the Ravens were at midfield and still had all the momentum when rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro was stripped of the ball by linebacker Arthur Moats. McCain picked up the lose ball and returned it 26 yards into Ravens’ territory.
After a sequence on which the Ravens were called for three penalties on one play, including a roughing-the-passer call on Courtney Upshaw, Roethlisberger hit running back Le’Veon Bell for a touchdown pass on third-and-goal from the 5. Bell got position on Ravens rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley and elevated to make the catch.
Worilds returned it all the way to the Ravens’ 30. It was Flacco’s fifth interception in the past three games.
"I was trying to throw it away. I kind of lost my mind on that whole entire play," Flacco said. "I got everybody messed up, and I thought I could throw a hot route, and like I said, I lost my mind on that play."
This time, the Steelers needed only three plays to convert the miscue into points. Roethlisberger hit Bryant for a 19-yard touchdown catch to give the Steelers a 14-7 lead. It was Bryant’s fourth touchdown catch in the past three games.
Justin Tucker’s 46-yard field goal made it a 14-10 game, but the Steelers still had 1:44 on the clock before halftime and a red-hot Roethlisberger. He hit Brown for 17 yards and then Bell for 12 to move into Ravens’ territory.
Roethlisberger then hit Markus Wheaton in stride on a 47-yard score. Wheaton easily beat Lardarius Webb on Roethlisberger’s third touchdown pass of the second quarter.
Things went so badly in the second quarter for the Ravens that even Pittsburgh's mistakes worked out in their favor.
Holder Brad Wing couldn’t handle a low snap on the extra point of Wheaton’s score. So he picked the ball up and hit tight end Matt Spaeth for the two-point conversion to give the Steelers a 22-10 halftime lead after they outscored the Ravens 22-3 in the second quarter.
"Obviously, we weren't good enough," Flacco said. "We couldn't keep ourselves on the field, and I think that's why early in the game we didn't take advantage of some opportunities that we had."