Although Flacco kept getting up and dragging himself back to the huddle, the rough treatment took a toll on him during the Ravens' 43-23 defeat at Heinz Field as he was sacked four times to match the Ravens' season-high for sacks allowed.
The Steelers finished with 10 quarterback hits on Flacco even though it seemed like he was struck even more frequently than that as they repeatedly chased and caught up with him.
"They were blitzing us," coach John Harbaugh said. "We've just got to do a better job of pass protection."
Despite being under so much duress, Flacco still managed to complete 30 of 45 passes for 303 yards, two touchdowns and one interception for a 91.3 quarterback rating. However, Flacco was unable to come close to approaching the torrid passing rhythm manufactured by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who delivered six touchdown passes with no interceptions. Although he was limping late in the fourth quarter, Flacco said he didn't get hurt in the game.
Flacco lost his helmet at one point in the first half as he was engulfed by a pile of defenders. He was pile-driven into the ground by bulky Steelers nose tackle Steve McClendon, who was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
And Flacco was repeatedly crashed into by Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison. In a performance more reminiscent of his youth, the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year sacked Flacco twice and hit him three times.
"We didn't accomplish what we wanted to do," Flacco said. "We didn't do a good enough job."
Talked out of retirement in September by teammates Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu, the 36-year-old Harrison displayed a burst that had been absent from him in recent years. Harrison recorded a season-high seven tackles, including four solo, and two sacks.
"No. 92 looked really good," Harbaugh said of Harrison.
On his first sack of the game, rushing off the edge, Harrison dipped his left shoulder and accelerated past Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe as if he was standing still.
It was similar to how Harrison dominated the Ravens in a 2007 game in a Monday night win when he had 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery and an interception, or a Jan. 15, 2011 divisional-round playoff victory in Pittsburgh when Harrison had three sacks, seven tackles and two pass deflections.
"Hat's off to him, he did a great job," Monroe said. "Great players play great when they need to, and that's what he did. So, I give him credit for the job he did out there."
The bulk of the pressure was created by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's front seven defeating single-blocking with occasional line stunts and blitzes mixed in. On fire blitzes, linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Arthur Moats sacked Flacco once apiece.
Flacco had been sacked only nine times entering Sunday night's game after being sacked a career-high 48 times last season. But this was a clear regression for the offensive line against a tough opponent.
Flacco hadn't been sacked this many times since he was sacked four times during an October road loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Flacco had been sacked just twice in the past three games since the loss to the Colts when undrafted rookie tackle James Hurst allowed three sacks.
It was a particularly ugly performance by the offensive line as the lack of pass protection contributed greatly to the Ravens' fourth loss of the season and the team dropping into last place in the AFC North division.
"You never want to lose, you never want to lose like that," Monroe said. "We've got seven games left to play. There's a lot of ball left to be played. A lot can still happen. We're going to continue to fight and improve where we need to, so we can be a better team."