Ravens running back Ray Rice promised himself that he wasn't going to go to sleep before the final whistle had blown.
It didn't matter that a stadium power outage delayed the start of the game until 9 p.m. It didn't matter that the lights went out again early in the second quarter, resulting in another delay. And it certainly didn't matter that, as midnight approached, the San Francisco 49ers had a seemingly comfortable lead over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rice has seen plenty of Ben Roethlisberger comebacks, and he wanted to make sure that the Steelers quarterback didn't engineer another one that would add to the Ravens' pain.
"I actually said to myself that I wasn't going to go to sleep before the game ended, but after he threw his third interception, I went to sleep. I knew we had a blessing, we were back in position," Rice said. "It changed the mood of the team today. Coming in here, guys are happy. I'm not saying we're never a happy bunch. We know how to take a loss on the chin [and] we want to get better from that film, but we don't have to look at it as critical as we would have had to, [or] put as much time into San Diego anymore. We know you got to get onto Cleveland, but at the same time, we still control it. We don't have to take our show on the road if we take care of business."
The Steelers' 20-3 loss to the 49ers Monday night put renewed life into the Ravens' hopes of winning the AFC North and getting a first-round bye and at least one home playoff game. It also eased some of the pain from the Ravens' 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers about 24 hours earlier in a game where they were outplayed in every possible way.
"I know Coach [John] Harbaugh was real happy when he came in this morning, but things happen in the NFL that are sometimes out of your control," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. "Obviously, we could have controlled what happened Sunday night but we didn't do a good enough job. We are fortunate to be where we are. We have to be excited with that opportunity. As players, we try to move on to the next week as quickly as possible anyway, just because we did put ourselves in a bad situation to be where we really want to be on Sunday. But at the same time, we still have to go win these division games and play good football. We're going to come in here preparing the same either way, but I'd be lying to say that it wasn't exciting to see those guys lose last night."
Flacco and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs didn't watch the Steelers game, though Flacco, who used Monday to catch up on some sleep after the long trip back from San Diego got the team back in Baltimore in the wee hours of the morning, occasionally checked the score of the game on his phone and Suggs received updates via texts from friends.
Then there were other Ravens, like Rice, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and Harbaugh who watched every bit of it, hoping that the team would regain control of the division by virtue of a Steelers' loss.
Harbaugh, whose brother Jim coaches the 49ers, obviously had extra incentive to root for San Francisco. He sent his brother a text message after the game and they caught up over the phone this morning.
"He was coming in and saying, 'Hey, did you see that game last night? Who won? Who won?' We were like, 'OK, we all know who won the game. We know you're way more excited now than you were two days ago,'" said Flacco. "He didn't know where to go with it once I told him I didn't watch the game. He was a little confused but you could definitely tell that he was excited. We should be excited. We're obviously in a better position because of what happened [Monday] night. We just have to keep our wits about us and continue to play the way we've been playing all season."
Ngata said that the result gave the Ravens a "newfound energy" and a "second chance of staying on top." Suggs called it a gift but said, "We wish we didn't have to get it that way."
The Ravens and Steelers have identical 10-4 records, but the Ravens hold the tiebreaker over Pittsburgh because of their two wins against them this season. The New England Patriots are 11-3 and if they win their final two games — and they are both at home against 5-9 teams in the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills — they'll clinch the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout.
If the Ravens beat the Browns (4-10) at home Saturday and then win a road game the following Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals (8-6), they'll secure the No.2 seed, the AFC North title, a first-round bye and a second-round home playoff game because they have the tie-break edge over the Steelers and Houston Texans (10-4).
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"The fact that if we win both games now, we will win the division. That means a lot. That's really meaningful," said Harbaugh. "It's what it is right now, but it can change … based on what we do or what [the Steelers] do in the upcoming weeks. Of course, we have to control what we can control and the beauty is we can control a lot. We can control how we play and we can control the outcome of these games."
The Ravens beat the Browns 24-10 three weeks ago in Cleveland behind a ground game that gained 290 yards, 204 of them by Rice. They've now beaten the Browns seven consecutive times, meaning that Flacco, Rice and Harbaugh have never lost to Cleveland during their tenure with the Ravens.
"It's going to be a fight," Rice said. "From here on out, every game is going to be a fight. It's something that, quite frankly, we want to fight for. We all know what we're fighting for. There's no need to keep talking about it. If we win out, we're in a great situation. We drop one and we got to take the show on the road, which everyone knows, that route is very hard. I've played in every single playoff game there is to play in except for one, and that' sin a short career, in four years. I know how hard it is to win on the road."
The Ravens haven't had a home playoff game since after the 2006 season, but thanks to the 49ers, that opportunity is still very much alive.
"The 49ers did us a favor," Rice said. "It happens to be Coach Harbaugh's brother, so thank you 49ers. We appreciate that but down the line, hey, you never know. With the way they're playing, it could be one of those situations again. They did us one but now we've got to control our own. I guess that's what brothers do, they look out for each other."