PITTSBURGH — Ravens veteran defensive tackle Haloti Ngata busted into the Steelers' backfield Saturday night, shedding a block and hauling down star quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
By sacking Roethlisberger for a 3-yard loss during the first quarter of the Ravens' AFC wild-card playoff game at Heinz Field, Ngata served notice that he wasn't too rusty. He had not played in a game since a Nov. 30 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
"Oh definitely," Ngata said when asked if had to knock off some rust. "I don't think you can really train for football. The first couple of series, you try to get your wind back. I did and I was able to play."
It was a gratifying moment for the five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle as he returned from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL performance-enhancing drug policy. Ngata had tested positive for Adderall. Ngata had repeatedly expressed remorse to his teammates in the past month for letting them down and had hoped to get a second chance to play this season.
"Awesome, amazing, I can't thank the team enough to help let me play another game and we get another win and get to play another week," said Ngata, who finished the game with two tackles. "It's just an amazing feeling to be able to come back and play again. I was able to describe to my team how much I appreciate them and just happy to be playing again."
Days before kickoff, Ngata emphasized that he was determined to make the most of this opportunity after being punished by the NFL. Several teammates predicted he would make an impact in his first game back.
"A little bit," Ngata said when asked if he felt relief to beat the Steelers, the first time the Ravens had beaten them in the postseason after three previous losses. "You just want to come get a win as a team, first time we've done that in Pittsburgh in the playoffs. It's just awesome that we were able to do that and hopefully we can continue on this good run."
The first-quarter sack gave Ngata 8.5 career sacks against the Steelers, including the playoffs. Eight of those sacks have come in Pittsburgh.
Ngata wasn't alone in pressuring Roethlisberger, who was sacked three times during the first half. That included sacks by All-Pro outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had 17 sacks during the regular season, and a sack by nose tackle Brandon Williams.
Williams had a tough matchup against Steelers standout center Maurkice Pouncey, one of the top interior blockers in the game.
Roethlisberger did manage to escape pressure on a few occasions, including a signature play where he shook off the grasp of defensive end DeAngelo Tyson and ran outside the pocket to connect with tight end Heath Miller for a 30-yard reception.
During the first half, Roethlisberger completed 18 of 24 passes for 183 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a 96.4 passer rating. Roethlisberger finished the game having completed 31 of 45 passes for 334 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions as he was sacked five times.
To have Ngata back in the lineup appeared to bolster the entire front seven as outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil had two sacks rushing from the left side where Ngata lines up.
"It was huge, the big guy is back," Dumervil said. "He made a big sack early on. He got the party started with a big sack. His presence, having him here in the locker room, is a big part of what we do. Having the big guy back was huge."
First-quarter struggles continue
The Ravens' trend of slow starts is starting to define their offense.
They didn't score an offensive touchdown in the first quarter for the fifth consecutive game.
The Ravens' lone touchdown in the first quarter in the past five games was scored by wide receiver Kamar Aiken on a blocked punt by Darian Stewart that Aiken returned for a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Ravens backup running back Bernard Pierce had an inconsistent and generally unproductive regular season, rushing for 366 yards and two touchdowns as he averaged 3.9 yards per carry.
He provided a big play against the Steelers, though.
Using patience and a quick burst, Pierce scored on a 5-yard touchdown run in the second quarter as he followed key blocks from left guard Kelechi Osemele and center Jeremy Zuttah.
It was Pierce's first touchdown since an Oct. 19 win over the Atlanta Falcons, and it came one week after Pierce was stuffed twice in the red zone against the Browns.
Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds took a huge swing at Ravens rookie tight end Crockett Gillmore in the second quarter, connecting with a shot to the chin that didn't seem to faze the third-round draft pick.
It was an open-handed punch.
It was unclear why Worilds was so angry at Gillmore other than some aggressive blocking to the echo of the whistle, but it didn't escape the attention of the officials.
Worilds was called for a personal foul.
Controlling the clock
The Steelers trailed 10-9 at halftime despite building a commanding time of possession advantage.
The Steelers had the football for 20:55 to the Ravens' 9:05.
Despite having 193 yards of total offense and 13 first downs to the Ravens' 123 yards and 10 first downs, the Steelers were unable to finish drives and settled for three field goals by kicker Shaun Suisham in the first half.
The Steelers were 1-for-2 in the red zone.
With Bell out, the Steelers started Tate in the backfield. The former Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns and Minnesota Vikings running back was signed this week.