Ravens use defense, special teams to defeat the Steelers and take commanding lead in AFC North

Brian McIntyre
Shutdown Corner

The Baltimore Ravens generated just 200 yards of total offense but used timely defense and a 63-yard punt return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones to defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10 at Heinz Field on Sunday night.

Playing without Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh opened the scoring just 43 seconds into the game. Following a 42-yard pass interference penalty on Ravens cornerback Cary Williams and a 7-yard reception by David Gilreath, quarterback Byron Leftwich lumbered 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead.

The Ravens would go three-and-out on their first possession, but their defense would give them a golden opportunity to put points on the board. After Leftwich hit Mike Wallace on a quick slant for an apparent first down on a third-and-10 play, Ravens cornerback Chris Johnson — signed earlier this week when the team lost Jimmy Smith to surgery to repair a sports hernia — stripped the ball out of Wallace's hands with safety Ed Reed recovering the fumble and returning the ball to the Steelers' 12-yard line. Two runs and a pass to Ray Rice were not enough to find the end zone and rookie kicker Justin Tucker got the Ravens on the scoreboard with a 26-yard field goal.

Baltimore's special teams unit would score more points later in the first quarter when Jones fielded a 51-yard punt by Drew Butler, found a seam to the left, received an excellent seal block by Sean Considine and weaved his way 63 yards for a touchdown, his first punt return touchdown as a member of the Ravens and the fourth of his career.

After the game, Jones discussed his return with NBC's Michele Tafoya.

"Well, all week in practice, we knew we had two kick returns already for touchdowns and the whole special teams unit, we kept complaining that we hadn't had a punt return yet," Jones said. "So that's one thing we emphasized and worked on all week and everybody did a great job on blocking."

The Ravens had an opportunity to extend their lead to 13-7 in the second quarter, but Tucker missed a 41-yard attempt wide to the right. Following a Corey Graham interception of Leftwich early in the third quarter, Tucker added a 39-yard field goal and is now 19 of 21 on the season.

On Pittsburgh's next possession, they used strong running by Jonathan Dwyer and Rashard Mendenhall and a 20-yard pass from Leftwich to Sanders that was augmented by an unnecessary roughness penalty on Ed Reed to give the Steelers an opportunity in the red zone. On a third-and-2 play from the Ravens' 4-yard line, a potential touchdown pass was ruled incomplete as Wallace failed to keep both feet inbounds and Shaun Suisham was called upon for a 22-yard field goal to trim the lead to 13-10.

Using two of their three second-half timeouts and coming away with only three points on that possession would prove costly for the Steelers, as that would be the closest they would get to a legitimate opportunity to tie the game and force overtime. Whenever the Steelers would approach the Ravens' 40-yard line, Baltimore's defense would come up with a big play. Haloti Ngata, refreshed after being given last week off, sacked Leftwich for a 10-yard loss and forced a punt after the Steelers had reached the Ravens' 46-yard line. Ravens safety James Ihedigbo sacked Leftwich for a 7-yard loss and forced a punt on third-and 11 play after Pittsburgh had reached the 42-yard line.

Leftwich appeared to suffer a rib injury on the sack by Ihedigbo, which along with an apparent right shoulder injury suffered on his 31-yard touchdown pass, affected his ability to make all the throws. Leftwich short-hopped several balls on the night, including a deep attempt to Gilreath that could have possibly set up a game-tying field goal in the final 20 seconds of the fourth quarter. On the night, Leftwich completed 18 of 39 attempts for 201 yards with his costly interception, and was sacked three times. The Steelers got a strong effort from their ground game, with Mendenhall and Dwyer combining for 23 carries and 88 yards, with Leftwich's 31-yard touchdown increasing the team's rushing total to 134 yards on the night.

The Ravens offense was largely ineffective on Sunday night. Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 20 of 32 attempts for 164 yards, while Rice had just 40 yards on 20 attempts, the second consecutive week he's struggled to produce. In the Ravens' 55-20 win over the Oakland Raiders, Rice gained just 35 yards on 13 attempts.

With the win, the Ravens move to 8-2 and now have a 2 ½-game lead on the Steelers in the AFC North. The Ravens have now won 12 straight games in the AFC North and have won five of their last seven meetings with the Steelers, who they will host on Dec. 2.

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