It would have been easy for Mike Wallace to gloat about his 95-yard catch-and-run touchdown that propelled the Ravens to a 21-14 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
After all, Pittsburgh had drafted Wallace in the third round of the 2009 NFL draft, but he was regarded by coach Mike Tomlin as a "one-trick pony" who couldn't run routes. He was permitted to leave in free agency after the 2012 season.
But the wide receiver said the only thing that mattered was helping the Ravens end a four-game losing streak and assume control in the AFC North.
"It felt really good, just to get back in the win column, and it was a little bit sweeter because it was against my old team, but I haven't been there for a while now," Wallace said in what was the closest he came to rubbing salt in the Steelers' wounds. "It was good, great to see people, but just to say, 'I really want to beat my old team,' that's out the window. I just really want to win because we need to win to get to the lead in the division. That was the biggest thing and the only thing that mattered, was try to get the lead and control our own destiny in this division."
Wallace had a huge hand in Sunday's outcome, primarily with his second catch of the game.
With the team backed up to its own 5-yard line and facing second-and-9, Wallace ran a slant from the left side of the formation. Quarterback Joe Flacco hit Wallace in stride at the 15.
Rookie cornerback Artie Burns, who had ended the previous drive by intercepting a woeful Flacco pass intended for tight end Dennis Pitta, dove at Wallace's legs, but came up with air. Wallace then used his right arm to stiff-arm free safety Mike Mitchell at the 22 and run down the left sideline to the end zone.
The 95-yard score is the longest offensive play in the franchise's regular-season history, passing a 92-yard reception from Eric Zeier to Derrick Alexander on Dec 7, 1997, against the Seattle Seahawks. Wallace now has 12 career touchdown catches of 50 yards or more, which ranks as the third-highest total since he was drafted.
Wallace said he was surprised the Steelers chose to have Burns press him in man-to-man coverage.
"It's disrespectful," Wallace said. "I feel like if you press me, you're going to lose 90 percent of the time, maybe 95. … I got the slant, [and] when I looked up and [saw] the coverage, I was like, 'If I catch this, I have a chance because they have nobody in the middle of the field.' So I was like, 'If I catch this and beat the corner, it would be one-on-one with the safety,' and that's exactly what happened. I just had to pick a way to go, if I was going to go inside or outside. I chose outside."
Burns finished with four tackles (one for loss) and two pass breakups in his second consecutive start, but the first-round pick blamed himself on the play. "We were single-high, man-up," he said. "We played a lot of man this game. That's one of the plays I gave up."
Mitchell, who had one tackle, took a similar approach. "It was a slant where I've got to cover him, and I have to tackle him," he said. "It was a missed tackle, and he got out."
Coach John Harbaugh said Wallace's big-play potential has been a welcome relief for an offense that had lacked a deep threat.
"The fact that we came off the 5-yard line and scored a touchdown – we haven't seen this in the history of the Ravens," Harbaugh pointed out. "We need more of that. … We have the speed to do it. We have guys that can do it. I think we just have to keep finding those plays and see that happen."
But after the touchdown, there was a stretch when Wallace was being evaluated by the team's medical staff. Wallace, who finished with four receptions for 124 yards and now leads the Ravens in yards with 614 and touchdown catches with four, admitted that he had not eaten much before the game and the lack of energy caught up to him.
"Honestly, I think every time I ever made a big play, I always use so much emotion that I get a little light-headed, but I always come right back for the next series and be fine, but today, it just set in on me a little bit," he said. "Just had to calm down, got a banana, a little water, and I was ready to go. I was just overly excited. I had to calm down, and once that happened, I was ready to go."
Flacco teased Wallace for taking a spell. ("You know he celebrates for 15 minutes after he scores a touchdown," he told the media. "I'm pretty sure that had something to do with it.") But Flacco praised Wallace for setting the tone for the team with his touchdown.
"He did a great job of getting his arm on the safety and throwing his steps off a little bit, then out running him to the end zone," Flacco said. "I love those. They're as easy as possible for me."