PITTSBURGH — Jameel McClain loves to defy the odds, overcoming a bout with homelessness as a teenager growing up in Philadelphia before earning a football scholarship to Syracuse.
The veteran weak-side inside linebacker conquered another obstacle Sunday, starting his first game in 10 months since returning from a spinal cord contusion suffered last December.
Since getting hurt against the Washington Redskins last year, McClain was told by at least one doctor that he would never play football again. However, he was on the field in Sunday's 19-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I waited a long time for this moment," McClain said. "My vision was something different than what happened. On a personal note, it's good I was able to get the opportunity to go back out there when it wasn't believed it was possible. On a team note, it's very disappointing. It's not even sweet. It's bitter.
"We lost, so I played bad. You can't play good when you lose. It's a bad feeling. It's tough, man. It's like a nightmare come true."
McClain lined up in the base defense next to middle linebacker Daryl Smith with rookie second-round draft pick Arthur Brown operating on obvious passing downs. McClain appeared to have no difficulties physically, recording five tackles.
"I didn't have no setbacks," McClain said. "That's the biggest thing, no injuries. I got to get the feel for it again and everything is normal for me. I just played football.
"It felt great. It was exactly what I wanted. I wanted the chance to hit someone and see how my body would respond. I played with no hesitation."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh confirmed that McClain emerged unscathed, an encouraging sign.
"He didn't have any problems," Harbaugh said. "It seemed like he played well. We'll watch the tape and see, but for him to be back is a big bonus for us going forward."
Onsides kick unsuccessful
An aggressive decision backfired on the Ravens in the fourth quarter when kicker Justin Tucker's onside kick didn't travel the required 10 yards and dribbled into Steelers linebacker Vince Williams' hands.
The play was designed for Tucker to recover the footballbut didn't work out as planned. It wound up leading to a Steelers field goal.
"It was one of those calculated risk plays," Tucker said. "Their center on kick return made a good play and hit me right as I was making contact with the ball. We're trying to steal a possession and give our offense the ball with good field position.
"No one is going to question our stones, ever. We're playing to win the game. We're not into moral victories."
It was also a painful experience for Tucker.
While trying to recover the loose football, Tucker was struck in the ear hole. The hit required Tucker to get treated for a cut on his left ear.
"I just cut my ear, no stitches," Tucker said. "It probably looked a lot worse than it was, just a little blood."
Rough drive for Dumervil
Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil had a penalty-filled series in the third quarter, flagged three times with one of them declined.
Dumervil jumped offsides and then delivered a late hit after quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had already released a pass intended for Jerricho Cotchery that fell incomplete.
"I got to do a better job of being aware of the strike zone," Dumervil said. "I think I played a little too aggressive. I have to do a better job and not cost the team."
Later in the drive, Dumervil combined with nose tackle Haloti Ngata for a sack on third down at the Ravens' 17-yard line.
It was nullified, though, because Dumervil committed a facemask penalty that led to a Steelers field goal.
"You just can't grab the facemask, but Ben ducks all the time," Harbaugh said. "What do you say? This is the biggest, strongest quarterback in the NFL. We have to wrap him up strong and bring him down, but you feel yourself around the face area, he drops down, you have to get your fingers out of there somehow. Maybe there's a way to coach that other than talking about it, but you don't want to get the facemask."
Osemele to be re-evaluated after season
Although left offensive guard Kelechi Osemele will have his back evaluated again following the season, no surgical procedure is currently planned, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.
Osemele was forced out of a game against the Miami Dolphins due to back spasms. He had his back examined thoroughly prior to the season and no surgery was recommended, per the source.
Osemele has had an up-and-down season and the source said the player is dealing with some frustrations.
The Steelers broke character offensively and a bit of new ground as they ran a handful of Wildcat plays.
The Ravens admitted that the gambit caught them off guard.
"They did some new things that we haven't seen from them, not just all year but like ever," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "Pittsburgh has never come out and run the Wildcat on us. They've never come out and run with extra linemen. You just got to be able to adjust on the fly."
The Steelers finished with 141 rushing yards on 29 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per run. They had entered the game ranked 31st in rushing offense, averaging only 61 rushing yards per contest.
"We didn't do a good enough job," Harbaugh said. "The fact that they were able to run the ball the way they did was the thing that allowed them to extend those drives. We've got to get in there.
"We've got to put people up to defend the run. They did a real good job with the run game. They did a good job of scheming some things up."
The Ravens reported no serious injuries.
Backup running back Bernard Pierce aggravated a pre-existing leg injury, but emphasized it wasn't too bad.
"It's a little banged-up, but I'll be fine," said Pierce, who rushed for 13 yards on six carries. "I'll get through it. It's been lingering on the side of my leg."
In a move that triggered no surprise, the Ravens scratched veteran offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie for the second consecutive game. McKinnie was replaced last week by Eugene Monroe. The Ravens also deactivated wide receiver Brandon Stokley (groin), linebacker Josh Bynes (finger surgery), nose tackle Terrence Cody (sprained left knee), offensive lineman Jah Reid, center Ryan Jensen (foot surgery) and defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson.