Ravens’ second half collapse leads to Steelers’ victory

Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco (5) is sacked by James Harrison (92) of the Pittsburgh Steelers during the second half of their AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, January 15, 2011. REUTERS/Jason Cohn (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Here are five quick-hit thoughts on the Steelers’ 31-24 victory over the Ravens in the NFL Divisional Round.

1. Ravens pick a horrible time to play their worst football.
Baltimore’s second half collapse in this game was one of the worst I have ever seen. They did such a great job building all of this momentum in the first half only to give it right back on their first offensive possession in the third quarter. The Ravens took a two-touchdown lead into the second half but quickly allowed Pittsburgh back into the game with sloppy play. From Ray Rice and Joe Flacco’s fumbles to two huge drops by Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh at the end of the game, the Ravens saved their worst for the most important game of the year. That said…

2. …what a great job by the Steelers to capitalize on Baltimore’s mistakes.
You have to hand it to the Steelers: they always seem to make plays when it matters most. When Rice fumbled at the start of the third quarter, they turned the gift into seven points. When the defense picked off Flacco, they again put the ball into the end zone. When Boldin dropped that key pass on third down late in the game, Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on an improbable 58-yard pass to set up the eventual game-winning touchdown. Pittsburgh played a horrible first half, but it didn’t matter in the end. Because when the other shoe eventually dropped, the Steelers took full advantage.

3. Flacco must elevate his game in the playoffs.
In his third year, Joe Flacco has done some great things. You can tell he “gets it” and that he’s going to be a very good player for a long time. But if the Ravens want to win anything of any substance, he has to elevate his game when they get to the playoffs. He only threw for 125 yards and while he did have one touchdown, his fumble and interception in the second half proved costly. Granted, if Boldin catches that ball at the goal line on third down or Houshmandzadeh doesn’t drop that fourth down pass, maybe I’m signing Flacco’s praises right now. But those two drops don’t excuse Flacco’s lackluster play in the second half.

4. How do the Ravens allow Brown to get behind them?
It’s 3rd and 19 and the Steelers only really have one option: throw it deep and hope for the best. So then how does Antonio Brown get behind Baltimore’s defense? That’s the only play they have to defend in that situation: the deep pass. Brown made one incredible catch (seriously, what a great catch), but how does that happen? In a second half full of mental breakdowns for the Ravens, that was the biggest of them all.

5. Big Ben shows his resiliency yet again.
Coming into this game, the Ravens’ defense was playing at a Super Bowl-level and for one half, Terrell Suggs’ and Co. was dominating again. But while Ben Roethlisberger’s fumble led to an immediate score for Baltimore, he played a near-perfect second half and finished with 226 yards with two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the league. Once again, the Steelers didn’t have a running game but they managed to score 31 points in yet another victory thanks to their defense and Big Ben. If they wind up facing the Patriots again they’re going to have their hands full, but this is one resilient team led by one resilient quarterback.

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