Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston talks about the Ravens 21-14 win over to the Pittsburgh Steelers. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
On any given Sunday, one NFL team can play as poorly as the other, and the Pittsburgh Steelers were worse than the Ravens on Sunday.
There is a reason why the NFL TV ratings are down this season, and it was on display at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens defeated the Steelers, 21-14, in an AFC North matchup.
The Ravens' offensive production was poor but Pittsburgh's was worse. The Ravens had one big scoring play and the Steelers sniff the end zone until the fourth quarter. The Ravens had 50 rushing yards compared to 36 for the Steelers. The Ravens had 10 penalties for 94 yards while Pittsburgh had 13 for 99.
The two teams traded ugliness for nearly 3 1/2 hours Sunday, but only one result matters at this point. With the win, the Ravens are tied with the Steelers for first place in the division with despite having lost the four previous games.
"We haven't won since what, September?" asked Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs. "It's good to finally, finally get one, get back in the winning column, especially against our division rival. It's good to win, but we've still got a tremendous amount of work to do."
Over at The Castle, there will be a lot less anxiety this week, especially with the winless Cleveland Browns coming to town for a Thursday night game. But even though the Ravens beat Pittsburgh, they still didn't show much improvement after having a bye week to make corrections.
The defense had already staked claim as one of the best in the NFL, especially against the run, and on Sunday they held one of the league's top runners, Le'Veon Bell, to 32 yards on 14 carries.
Ravens defensive linemen Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan and Michael Pierce trashed Pittsburgh's running game inside, and they were dominant and patient in controlling the gaps. The linebackers flew to the ball and the Ravens cornerbacks were aggressive in pressing up on the Steelers.
"It was pretty pathetic," Pittsburgh guard David DeCastro said of his team's performance. "That's a credit to them. When you can't run the ball, it's going to hurt us."
The Ravens couldn't run the ball, either, and that's discouraging news because the Steelers came into the game with the No. 27 ranked defense.
Ravens running back Terrance West had only 21 yards on 15 carries, and the Ravens averaged only 1.7 yards an attempt. The Ravens got a 95-yard touchdown reception from receiver Mike Wallace after he caught a 9-yard slant in the first period, but quarterback Joe Flacco finished with only 241 yards passing on 18 of 30 completions.
He constantly threw behind or low to his receivers. His lone interception halted one drive and his decision making on when and when not to throw was poor. A lot of his passes just fluttered. Right now, he is performing like one of the worst quarterbacks in the NFL.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was more erratic than Flacco for three quarters. In some instances, he wasn't within 15 to 20 yards of a receiver. Roethlisberger wasn't helped by his coach, Mike Tomlin, who usually chokes against the Ravens.
In the first three quarters, Pittsburgh tried to pound the ball and the Steelers didn't go downfield often. In the first half, Antonio Brown, possibly the best receiver in the league, was targeted only once.
It was only in the fourth period that the Steelers went with the no-huddle and allowed Roethlisberger to spray the field with passes. By then, it was too late.
As the Steelers mounted a comeback, the Ravens gained just two yards in the fourth quarter.
"There's not a disappointment right now," Flacco said of the offense. "They are tough football games to win. But yeah, there is a little frustration in the fact that we're not playing as well as we want right now."
There should be more than just a little frustration. Flacco is saying the same thing week after week. The Ravens have scored only one offensive touchdown in the last two games. They got a blocked punt return for a touchdown Sunday and two field goals from Justin Tucker.
As good as the defense was against the Steelers, these aren't the 2000 Ravens — not with this secondary. Roethlisberger missed several weeks because of a knee injury, and it showed. After the game, Ravens safety Eric Weddle, a close friend of Roethlisberger, said the quarterback was basically playing on one leg.
The Ravens can't keep playing like this because they aren't getting better. They remain status quo in a sorry league. With an extra week to prepare, Flacco still played poorly, the Ravens had no running game and the offense played as poorly as it had for Marc Trestman, who was fired as the coordinator last month.
This team should be playing better than it has showed, and by the conclusion of the season the Ravens might have to find stronger-minded offensive coaches with better schemes to fit the personnel.
Harbaugh's post-game comments seem to fly in the face of what everybody else had just seen on the field.
"I think our offense won the game today," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the No. 1 thought. I really like that Joe figured out, especially in the second half, he played the game to win the game. He really didn't try to force any balls in there. I think he understood the situation of the game, and I give him credit for that."
Maybe Harbaugh was just a bit too giddy. After all, the Ravens broke a losing streak, and a loss would have put them in too deep of a hole to dig out. But the Ravens still have many issues.
If you were looking for improvements then this was nothing more than what we've seen in the previous seven games. This healthy team looked a lot like the Ravens that barely beat Buffalo, Cleveland and Jacksonville in the first three games.
Maybe that's good enough for now in this conference, certainly in the division. But the AFC North is starting to look a lot like the AFC South did in the previous three or four years.