McCain fumble recovery turns tide
With the Steelers offense staggering in the first half, the defense again delivered a momentum-changing play.
The Baltimore Ravens led 7-0 and appeared on their way to a two-score lead after overcoming a personal-foul penalty on linebacker Albert McClellan. Running back Lorenzo Taliaferro torched the defense with a 12-yard run to give Baltimore a first down at their 44-yard line.
The Steelers defense seemingly was on its heels. Quarterback Joe Flacco had them guessing as the Ravens established a blend of run and pass.
Taliaferro slipped through a big hole behind right tackle Rick Wagner. But outside linebacker Arthur Moats swept in from behind to strip Taliaferro, and cornerback Brice McCain picked up the ball at the 47.
McCain, who was beaten by Torrey Smith on a 35-yard touchdown pass that gave Baltimore a 7-0 lead, returned the ball 26 yards to the Baltimore 27. McCain’s fumble recovery was the first of two turnovers for a defense that was embarrassed in a 26-6 loss to their AFC North rivals in Week 2.
Moats, sharing duty with James Harrison, teamed with McCain to shift the momentum. Suddenly, an offense that was three-and-out on its first three possessions came alive when positioned inside the Baltimore 30.
The Steelers tied the game at 7-7 when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger tossed a 5-yard pass to running back Le’Veon Bell with 7:18 left in the second quarter.
McCain’s recovery also enabled the Steelers to overcome a rough patch by the offensive line. The Ravens recorded three straight sacks of Roethlisberger to seemingly gain firm control of the game until the Steelers defense countered.
Wheaton strikes again with TD
Steelers receiver Markus Wheaton’s first career touchdown reception was somewhat overlooked amid the Steelers’ 51-34 trouncing of Indianapolis a week ago.
His second touchdown — a 47-yarder with 53 seconds left in the first half against Baltimore on Sunday — was far more memorable. Wheaton blew past the Ravens secondary to give the Steelers a 22-10 halftime lead.
More importantly, Wheaton and receiver Martavis Bryant, who caught a 19-yard touchdown, took the heat off playmaker Antonio Brown. They gave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger options he didn’t have in the teams’ first meeting.
Wheaton, locked up with cornerback Lardarius Webb, streaked down the right sideline as the Ravens rolled their coverage to account for Brown and tight end Heath Miller. As safety Darian Stewart vacated the deep zone, Wheaton got a step on Webb to gather in a perfectly thrown pass from Roethlisberger.
Wheaton’s touchdown rocked Heinz Field. But it was kicker Shaun Suisham’s 2-point conversion pass to tight end Matt Spaeth that left the Ravens talking to themselves.
The conversion came after punter Brad Wing fumbled the snap.
Wheaton’s touchdown countered the Ravens’ 46-yard field goal that narrowed the deficit to 14-10 with 1:44 remaining in the first half. The touchdown also caused the Baltimore defense to scale back its blitzes, which accounted for three sacks and four quarterback hits in the first half.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at [email protected].