Steelers top Ravens for 4th straight win, stay atop AFC North
BALTIMORE — The offense didn’t commit a turnover and chewed up the clock with a series of lengthy drives. The defense made stops inside the red zone and got off the field on third down.
The game held Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium played out much like it did five weeks ago at Heinz Field.
With an obvious exception.
It was the Pittsburgh Steelers — and not the Baltimore Ravens — imposing their will and winning the line of scrimmage in the AFC North rematch.
The result was a grind-it-out 23-16 victory for the Steelers that increased their winning streak to four as their season reached the midpoint.
“We had good balance. It was a team-effort win,” guard David DeCastro said. “Usually that is (the Ravens’) recipe.”
By avenging a 26-14 loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field on Sept. 30, the Steelers improved to 5-2-1. They also maintained their edge in the AFC North over the 5-3 and idle Cincinnati Bengals while the Ravens, who were 3-1 just a month ago, lost their third in a row and fourth in five games to fall to 4-5.
“We’ve got to continue to control our destiny,” said wide receiver Antonio Brown, who caught a touchdown pass for the sixth consecutive game. “Take care of business. We continue to get better. We continue to come to work. That’s our commitment to these guys in our locker room. There’s a lot of football left.”
The second half begins in just four days when the Steelers play the 6-2 Carolina Panthers at Heinz Field. They will enter that game short on rest but long on health. Coach Mike Tomlin revealed no significant injuries, although one to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger jolted the Steelers sideline for a brief moment early in the fourth quarter.
Roethlisberger said he had the “wind knocked out of me” when he was dragged to the ground on a scramble.
The franchise quarterback remained on the ground for several moments before gingerly walking to the sidelines.
“We were holding our breath,” inside linebacker Vince Williams said.
The Steelers had the ball at their 5 and faced a second-and-20. Backup quarterback Joshua Dobbs, playing his first meaningful NFL snap, threw a 22-yard completion to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Roethlisberger returned and completed a drive that resulted in Chris Boswell’s 29-yard field goal that gave the Steelers a 23-13 lead with 8 minutes, 26 seconds remaining.
“It’s the standard of this team,” DeCastro said about Dobbs. “Guys have to come in and step up.”
Those that stepped up for the Steelers on Sunday would fill up a phone book. A sampling:
• James Conner, held to 19 yards rushing in the first game, had 107 on 24 carries and caught his first career touchdown pass. It was his fourth consecutive game of 100-plus yards, and he totaled 163 yards from scrimmage.
• Roethlisberger completed passes to seven players and finished 28 of 47 or 270 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for a 1-yard score that gave the Steelers a 20-6 lead in the third quarter.
• The defense held the Ravens to 268 yards, marking the fourth consecutive game an opponent gained less than 325. The Ravens were stopped twice at the Steelers 5 in the first half and had to settle for field goals while scoring a touchdown just once on four trips inside the red zone.
“Our defense is working in the right direction,” said safety Sean Davis, who led the Steelers with eight tackles. “I feel like we’re putting together winning performances. As long as the defense continues to do that, and with our offense playing the way they’re playing, we’re just going to continue riding the roller coaster. Our trajectory is high.”
Facing the NFL’s top-ranked defense, the Steelers converted 10 of 16 third-down opportunities after going 2 for 12 in the first matchup. After Ravens went 8 of 17 and possessed the ball for 35 minutes in that game, they were 4 for 12 on third downs and had the ball for only 9:46 of the second half.
“The first game, they just beat us. Wore us down, and we couldn’t stop the run,” Davis said. “Today, we did what we were supposed to do.”
The Steelers held Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to 209 yards passing after giving up 363 in the first meeting. The Ravens also had just 61 yards rushing, the fourth consecutive game the Steelers yielded fewer than 75.
The biggest defensive plays came in the first half when the Steelers stopped a third-and-5 at their 5 and a third-and-4 at their 4. Instead of touchdowns, the Ravens got a pair of 23-yard field goals from Justin Tucker.
“We knew we had to knuckle up,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said. “We put ourselves in some tough situations, but I like how we responded. We didn’t give up anything easy.”
Armed with a 14-6 halftime lead, the Steelers took the second-half kickoff and drove 75 yards on 15 plays while winding 8:14 off the clock. Roethlisberger capped off the drive with a 1-yard run. The Steelers converted a trio of third downs on the drive — needing to get at least 6 yards on each try.
“That was pretty awesome,” Roethlisberger said.
The offense was tasked with doing it one more time when the Steelers got the ball back with 5:23 remaining and armed with a seven-point lead. Roethlisberger had third-down completions to Antonio Brown and Smith-Schuster that extended the drive. Forced to burn all three timeouts, the Ravens didn’t the ball back until 44 seconds remained.
“It’s hard to come back when they convert so many third downs and score touchdowns in the red zone,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “That’s where we held them last time and stopped their run the first game as well. We knew they were going to come back and play a little better.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.