PITTSBURGH -- It's only fitting that a weird week, one that saw three postponements, the first NFL game of the season played on a Wednesday, and a revolving door of players from both teams on the reserve/COVID-19 list, ended with an even weirder game.
Still, just as the Pittsburgh Steelers have done all season, they somehow prevailed with a 19-14 victory to remain undefeated (11-0), narrowly escaping a short-handed Baltimore Ravens team playing with 10 practice squad players and two backup quarterbacks while their reigning MVP signal-caller was on the reserve/COVID-19 list and unavailable.
It was a disjointed week of game-planning with the game first scheduled for Thanksgiving Day, then for Sunday night, then Tuesday night, then Wednesday afternoon -- and the play reflected that.
Steelers receivers dropped five passes -- including three in the red zone in the first half, the most for any team in a game over the past three seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information research. The five drops were the most for the team in the past 15 seasons, matching games in 2019 against the Rams and 2007 against the Browns.
The offense looked eerily similar to the group that couldn't move the ball without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger a season ago. The Steelers were 2-of-6 on third down in the first half, and the offense couldn't get into the end zone. The problems started early when they elected to go for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2. Throwing under pressure, Roethlisberger was intercepted in the end zone, leaving the Steelers with no points to show for a possession that started when the Ravens fumbled on their first play of the drive and Vince Williams recovered it.
Even though the offense came up empty on that drive, the defense responded by putting points on the board with a 14-yard pick-six of Robert Griffin III by Joe Haden on the ensuing drive. Even Haden's score wouldn't be completely routine, though, as Chris Boswell missed the extra point attempt to give the Steelers only a 6-0 lead.
With sacks from Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt, the Steelers' defense kept them ahead for most of the game. But they gave up a 70-yard score on a pass from Trace McSorley to Marquise Brown late in the fourth quarter to pull the Ravens to within five.
After Brown's score, the Steelers were on the verge of giving the ball back to the Ravens when Roethlisberger completed a 16-yard pass to James Washington in traffic on third down. Despite triple coverage, Washington hauled in the pass and held on to it. Running back Benny Snell, taking the majority of the reps with James Conner on the reserve/COVID-19 list, followed it up with a 13-yard carry. Snell ran the ball three more times to pick up another first down and allow the Steelers to kneel out the rest of the clock.
Though they pulled off an improbable win out of a sure-thing victory, the Steelers won't be getting back to normal anytime soon. The Steelers have a short week to prepare for the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
QB breakdown: Roethlisberger completed 36-of-51 passes for 266 yards with one touchdown and an interception, but his numbers could have been much better if not for the five drops by by his receivers. Roethlisberger and the offense struggled mightily in the red zone, scoring zero touchdowns on their first three red zone drives. They scored a TD on 69% of their red zone drives entering the game, seventh best in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The three red zone drives without a TD matches their most in a game this season.
Silver lining: When the Steelers needed a stop, they got one from Watt, the cornerstone of their defense. Clinging to a five-point lead in the third quarter, Watt had a tackle for loss of Gus Edwards on third down to end the Ravens' first drive of the second half. He picked right up where he left off of Baltimore's next possession, sacking Griffin as he came in untouched on second down for a loss of nine yards. That helped force the Ravens to punt for the second time in the quarter. Watt's sacks helped extend the Steelers' sack streak to 68 games. One next week would match Tampa Bay's record of 69 set in 2003.
Pivotal play: Sitting on the 1-yard line with seconds evaporating off the game clock before half, the Ravens ran Edwards up the middle toward the end zone. Edwards, though, didn't gain any ground as Chris Wormley and Terrell Edmunds brought him down. Without a timeout to stop the clock, the Ravens had less than 26 seconds to run another play before half. The Steelers were slow to get up, stalling as the reset. What resulted was a frenzied final throw from Griffin on third down that nearly resulted in a touchdown to tight end Luke Wilson. But as he's done frequently this season, safety Minkah Fitzpatrick made the clutch play in the end zone to break up the pass and preserve the Steelers' 12-7 halftime lead.