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Ravens stuff Steelers to consolidate division lead

The SportsXchange

PITTSBURGH -- The Baltimore Ravens took control of the AFC North race Sunday night by doing one of the things they do best -- winning inside the division.

The Ravens used Jacoby Jones' punt-return touchdown, two field goals and a strong defensive effort to edge the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10 at Heinz Field.

Baltimore improved to 8-2 and took a two-game lead over Pittsburgh (6-4) in the AFC North by winning its 12th consecutive game against a division foe. The teams play again at Baltimore on Dec. 2, when they again will renew what many feel is the most intense rivalry in the NFL.

"Whatever procedure my brother had, I think I'm going to need something later tonight," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said jokingly, referring to his brother Jim Harbaugh, the San Francisco 49ers' coach, having a procedure Thursday to correct an irregular heartbeat.

"My heart's moving a little fast right now. It was the usual three-point spread. Isn't what they usually are when we play each other? It was a great defensive struggle, which is not unusual."

While six games remain, the Ravens know they are in a good spot as far as making the playoffs and winning the division.

"To start with a win the first time we play the Steelers is a good look because it means that it's us alone at the top," Baltimore linebacker Dannell Ellerbe said.

Justin Tucker's second field goal of the game, from 39 yards out midway through the third quarter, gave the Ravens a 13-7 lead.

The Steelers countered with a 23-yard field goal by Shaun Suisham in the final minute of the third period to close within three points.

Neither team scored again in a game in which the Ravens managed just 200 total yards against the NFL's top-ranked defense. The Steelers had 311 yards with backup quarterback Byron Leftwich running the offense.

Steelers starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger missed the game after suffering a sprained shoulder joint and dislocated rib Monday night in a win over the Kansas City Chiefs. The Steelers are 0-5 against the Ravens when Roethlisberger is not in the lineup.

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco completed 20 of 32 passes for 164 yards. Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin caught eight passes for 79 yards, but running back Ray Rice was held to 40 yards on 20 carries. Rice has just 215 yards and is averaging only 3.2 yards an attempt in his last four games.

Leftwich went 18-for-39 for 201 yards. He was intercepted once and sacked three times.

"I thought it was great," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Leftwich's performance. "We knew that this was going to be a Baltimore-Steelers type football game. It was going to be nip and tuck. Obviously, there weren't enough plays by him or the rest of us to secure victory, but he was great."

Leftwich has now lost his last seven starts dating to 2006, when he was with the Jacksonville Jaguars. He started Sunday for the first time since 2009, when he was playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"We our defensive guys get the game ball," Harbaugh said. "They kept a team out of the end zone for 59 minutes and 20 seconds. Usually, it's the first 59:20. This time, it was the last 59:20, and that's impressive."

Jonathan Dwyer was Pittsburgh's leading rusher with 55 yards on 12 carries.

The Ravens scored the final 10 points of the first half to take a 10-7 lead after Leftwich got the Steelers on the board in the game's opening minute with a 31-yard touchdown run.

Tucker kicked a 31-yard field goal to draw Baltimore within 7-3 with 8:22 remaining in the first quarter.

Jones put the Ravens ahead when he returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown with 3:14 to go in the opening period. It was the third career punt-return TD for Jones, who has also two kickoff-return scores this season.

Jones caught the ball along the left sideline, then raced across the field to the right and outran the Steelers' cover team.

"I cut right, and there was nothing but open field," Jones said. "It was a great job of blocking by our guys. It's funny. We were talking early this week in practice that we had the two kickoff returns but we didn't have a punt return for one, and it was time. Sure enough, it happened."

The Steelers didn't miss Roethlisberger at the start, as Leftwich eluded pressure from linebacker Terrell Suggs and scrambled for a touchdown just 43 seconds into the game.

Leftwich threw deep to wide receiver Mike Wallace to start the game and drew a 42-yard pass-interference penalty on cornerback Cary Williams.

NOTES: Roethlisberger was one of four Steelers starters who were inactive. The others were offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle), wide receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) and safety Troy Polamalu (calf). ... Among the Ravens' inactives were defensive end Pernell McPhee (thigh), cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) and guard Bobbie Williams (ankle). ... Ellerbe had a game-high 12 tackles, including eight solo stops. Cornerback Keenan Lewis topped the Steelers with 10 stops, including eight solos, while also defending two passes. ... Baltimore visits the San Diego Chargers on Sunday, while Pittsburgh travels to Cleveland to play the Browns.
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