Ravens' offensive line made the difference

No statistics other than the final score were more important than these two: The Ravens allowed just one sack, and quarterback Joe Flacco was hurried only two times.

That's it, folks.

When a team can contain the pass-rushing pressure of a great defensive team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, they're probably going to win. We'll hear about how the Ravens might have saved their season, and how Flacco came of age, but coach John Harbaugh should have presented game balls to offensive tackles Michael Oher and Marshal Yanda, guards Ben Grubbs and Chris Chester and center Matt Birk.

Yanda and Oher pitched shutouts against two of the best pass-rushing outside linebackers in the NFL in LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. In previous games, Pittsburgh's pressure was relentless. On Sunday, it came to a crawl.

"If they have the time, you can eventually break down the coverage," Harbaugh said. "As the game wore on, [the offensive line] got a feel, and they had good, square position against the best pass-rushing group in the league."

It's tough to pass-block Pittsburgh because the Steelers blitz a lot and play a lot of games up front. According to Birk, the Ravens didn't do anything special but won a lot of one-on-one matchups.

They also got some help from the tight ends and running backs. Flacco threw for 256 yards, and on the game-winning touchdown to receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, tight end Todd Heap came across the formation to stop a pass rusher.

"I think Todd Heap maybe came across from the strong side and picked up our pressure," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "And that gave Flacco the opportunity to slide to his right and deliver a ball. I think that's the significant element of the play."

The Ravens' pass blocking was the significant element of the game.

Flacco should be pumped

Maybe this was the turning point that will let Flacco take the next step. He finally beat a great defense with a drive in the final two minutes of the game.

If you look at Flacco's pro career, he has beaten a lot of teams that weren't of playoff caliber. The result against Pittsburgh has to boost his confidence as well as the organization's confidence in him.

Fortune favored Ravens

OK, now that we've gotten the feel-good stuff out of the way, if Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger plays in Sunday's game, the Ravens lose.

The Ravens had two turnovers on their side of the field in the third quarter, and Pittsburgh came away with nothing because the Steelers missed two field-goal tries. There were several times that Charlie Batch, Roethlisberger's replacement, had receivers open behind Ravens defenders and underthrew them.

The Ravens were lucky to come away with a win even though they outplayed the Steelers for most of the game.

Bad calls One of the worst calls of the game was the Ravens dropping Haloti Ngata into pass coverage on a third-and-5 from the Steelers' 45 with 10:52 left in the game. Batch completed a 13-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller, who had beaten middle linebacker Ray Lewis and Ngata across the middle. Maybe Ravens defensive coordinator Greg Mattison was taking a nap. The other bad call occurred late in the fourth quarter when the Steelers ran three straight running plays from inside their 10 instead of trying to pass for a first down and run out the clock. Tomlin said he wanted to have his defense out on the field to win the game. Dumb decision. "You can cover one or two receivers, but it's nearly impossible to cover four," Ravens receiver Derrick Mason said. Apparently, someone forgot to tell Tomlin. Why the Ravens miss Ed Reed

The Ravens miss safety Ed Reed on running plays, too. When Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall scored on a 7-yard run around the right corner midway in the fourth period, he would have been run down by Reed.

Instead, Mendenhall outran safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura around the corner for the score.

Secondary slips

The Ravens' secondary has played well for most of the season, but the group had some lapses Sunday. There were times when nickel cornerback Lardarius Webb froze instead of reacting, and Batch had some players open across the middle but just couldn't find them.

Speaking of Pittsburgh receivers, did anyone see that Hines Ward only had two receptions for 14 yards?

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Listen to Mike Preston Monday and Friday on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. on 105.7 FM

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