The Steelers improved to 11-0 Wednesday with their 19-14 win over the Ravens at Heinz Field.
However, we should be seriously concerned about this team’s ability to win a playoff game.
If that playoff game were on a Wednesday afternoon.
Sure, the Steelers should have had a much easier time beating a team that barely practiced, didn’t have its starting quarterback and had to call up 10 players from the practice squad on the day of the game. But athletes who are part of 53-man NFL rosters, who the Steelers had more of on Wednesday than the Ravens, aren’t conditioned to play games on Wednesday afternoons. They’d typically be wrapping up their first practice of the week at the time they kicked off.
Because of the Ravens’ COVID-19 outbreak caused by an ignoramus strength and conditioning coach who didn’t wear a mask or his contact-tracing device, this game was moved from Thanksgiving night to Tuesday night to Wednesday afternoon. The Steelers were focused on playing this game almost a week ago but had to wait and wait until the Ravens finally felt like THEY were ready to play.
The Steelers didn’t use any of this as an excuse, but it seemed their body clocks were off and that’s hard to overcome. They dropped seven passes. Ray-Ray McCloud handed the Ravens seven points when he muffed a punt at the Steelers’ 16-yard line in the first quarter, allowing the Ravens (6-5) to take a brief 7-6 lead.
Those six Steelers’ points came on a Joe Haden pick-six. Their only touchdown drive of the game spanned the end of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth quarter with JuJu Smith-Schuster catching a 1-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to make it 19-7 with 13:20 left in the game.
The Steelers then forced a three-and-out and finally seemed poised to make this game the rout everyone expected, but Eric Ebron dropped a third-and-2 pass at the Ravens’ 44 with 7:28 left in the game.
After the teams exchanged punts, the Steelers were haunted by Antonio Brown‘s genes when his cousin, Marquise Brown, caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Trace McSorley with 3:10 left to slash the Steelers’ lead to 19-14.
McSorley, a sixth-round draft pick last year, hadn’t thrown an NFL pass before replacing Robert Griffin III in this game. Let’s hope his TD pass wasn’t a sneak preview of Life After Bud Dupree for the Steelers’ defense.
One legitimate concern arose from this game. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dupree is out for the season with a torn ACL he sustained without contact during the game. He’s second on the team with eight sacks. This throws a wrench into the Steelers’ championship hopes. Alex Highsmith, a rookie who they drafted in the third round, has been groomed to take over for Dupree. He’s played 20 percent of the team’s defensive snaps this season and has an interception and a sack.
The Steelers have pretty much known they wouldn’t be able to afford to keep Dupree, who played on the franchise tag this year and was set to become a free agent. They drafted Highsmith to take his place in 2021. Well, it looks like Highsmith has to take his place now.
Dupree’s injury is a worry. Let’s not worry too much, though, about the Steelers’ sloppiness in this game. Even under normal circumstances, funny things happen when the Steelers play the Ravens.
Let’s not forget that the 2009 Ravens, who would go on to reach the divisional round of the playoffs, needed overtime to beat a Steelers team in Baltimore that was without Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu and quarterbacked by Dennis Dixon.
How about 2015? The Ravens got their first win in Week 4 on a Thursday night at Heinz Field when Josh Scobee missed two field goals in the final two and a half minutes. Michael Vick was the Steelers’ quarterback in that game, but the Steelers did have Roethlisberger in Week 16 at Baltimore when they fell 20-17 to Ryan Mallett and a Ravens team that finished 5-11. Because of that loss the Steelers needed
Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Bills to beat the Jets in Week 17 to make the playoffs.
Ryan Mallett is one of those names that has become infamous in Steelers’ lore for being synonymous with those head-scratching losses to inferior opponents that have happened way too much over the last decade.
Had the Steelers lost Wednesday, it would have been even more inexcusable than their home loss to a Buccaneers team that ended up 2-14 in 2014. But they didn’t lose. McSorley won’t have a place in history next to Mallett, because the Steelers haven’t lost any games like that in 2020. In fact, they haven’t lost any games in 2020.
The Steelers played just well enough to beat a critically undermanned Ravens team Wednesday. In Week 8, they played just well enough to beat that same team with most of its manpower on its home field. The week before that, they played just well enough to beat a Titans team in Tennessee that’s now 8-3.
If the Steelers see the Ravens again, it will be in the playoffs. And it will be in Pittsburgh, because while the Steelers haven’t yet clinched the AFC North, they’re assured of a better finish than the Ravens. Whoever the Steelers see in the playoffs, they’ve shown they can play well enough to beat that opponent on that day.
Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.