With one final throw, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson threatened to knock off the NFL's last remaining undefeated team on Sunday.
But Minkah Fitzpatrick swatted the ball away from Willie Snead IV in the end zone as time expired to give the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers a 28-24 victory, allowing them to stay perfect for yet another week.
After the game, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wanted the officials to flag Fitzpatrick for hitting the head of Snead on the final play. Fitzpatrick's head and right forearm appeared to make contact with Snead's helmet on what would've been the winning touchdown.
"I feel for him a little bit because I feel like that play would have been made in the end zone to win the game, and it would've been historic, and it would've been that kind of a play," Harbaugh said. "You just want to see your players protected and see them protected just like the rules say they should be."
With the win, the Steelers matched another milestone set by the 1978 team, reaching 7-0 for only the second time in franchise history.
"We lacked details in some areas, so we have to work to get better, to fortify ourselves for the next opportunity," coach Mike Tomlin said. "Like I always say, it is good to do that with a win. But, just much respect to Baltimore, they bring the best out in us. This rivalry is what it is. Hopefully, it was entertaining to football fans worldwide."
Tomlin earned his 140th regular-season victory, breaking a tie with Tony Dungy for the most wins by a Black head coach in NFL history, per ESPN Stats & Information research. Tomlin was hired as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defensive backs coach in 2001 during what would be Dungy's last season in Tampa Bay.
After an all-around uninspiring first half in which the Steelers, with one of the league's best run-stopping defenses, gave up 179 rushing yards, and their veteran signal-caller completed just 4 of 10 passes for 24 yards, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the defense worked in sync to overcome a 17-7 halftime deficit.
"You're going to be up against it if you don't play good," Tomlin said. "We can't allow the emotions of the moment for us to miss that fact. I am proud of these guys. I am proud of the fight. I am proud of how they supported one another. It's important that we don't lie to ourselves. Boy, we did not function well in a lot of ways today."
Roethlisberger's first drive of the third quarter looked like the stagnant offense of the first half, but he shook off his slow start after that. He completed 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter. Then, in the fourth, he orchestrated a scoring drive in which the Steelers didn't run the ball once, and he completed 7 of 9 passes for 80 yards. He finished it off with his second touchdown throw of the day, this one to Chase Claypool, to go ahead 28-24.
"This is a really, really good football team," Roethlisberger said of the Ravens (5-2). "They're ranked really high on defense for a reason. They got after us, and it wasn't pretty. I don't think at any point in this game, offensively, was it a pretty game. The first half wasn't pretty, second half wasn't pretty. Nothing about this game was pretty from our perspective until the game was over and we looked at the scoreboard and saw that we had won. At the end of the day, that's all that matters."
The victory was especially sweet for Roethlisberger, who relishes the rivalry and missed both meetings last season because of his elbow injury. He was spotted on the sideline getting that elbow massaged by the team doctor after taking a hard sack in the first half.
"Just a funny bone, I'm good," Roethlisberger said of his elbow afterward.
While Roethlisberger bounced back in the second half, so, too, did the run defense.
The Steelers came into Sunday's game boasting the league's second-best rushing defense, holding opponents to an average of 68.8 rushing yards per game. The Ravens and their NFL-best rushing attack more than doubled that in the first half with 179 rushing yards. The Steelers lost nose tackle Tyson Alualu early in the first quarter, and with the Pittsburgh defense already down Devin Bush and Mike Hilton, losing another defender in the run game allowed the Ravens to run roughshod -- even without two starting offensive linemen.
"We went in the game minus some significant run defenders like Mike Hilton," Tomlin said. "The loss of Tyson Alualu really stretched us, in terms of matching their power in that area. They're a strong, strong run team, coupled with the fact that their quarterback is a legitimate runner. We had to do what we had to do to settle it down."
That meant getting contributions from under-the-radar players such as Isaiah Buggs, who replaced Alualu. He came up with the crucial fourth-down stop of Jackson that kept the Ravens from regaining the lead late in the fourth quarter. Other low-key Steelers also came up big, including Robert Spillane and rookie Alex Highsmith, who each intercepted Jackson. Spillane picked off Jackson on the first drive and returned it for a 33-yard touchdown, the first pick-six of Jackson's career.
Highsmith's interception came less than a minute into the third quarter and turned the momentum of the game.
With injuries piling up and the Ravens' ground game gashing them, the Steelers had to get creative with their alignments and went to a substitution package in which they used three outside linebackers, including Highsmith.
He picked off Jackson on his first throw of the second half, and two plays later, tight end Eric Ebron was in the end zone to pull the Steelers within three.
"I think when you go against unique offenses, you have to do unique things on defense," Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt said. "It was just another way to get a mobile player that can play the run and the pass and have more guys on their feet to protect the quarterback scrambles and be able to play in coverage and help in the run game, as well."
The Ravens finished with 265 rush yards, the most allowed by the Steelers in a game since 1993, when the Seahawks rushed for 267, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.
But in the third quarter, Baltimore had just 16 rushing yards and just 27 total yards of offense. The next quarter, the Ravens got back to what worked and started pounding the ball with seven minutes left, taking time off the clock as they moved methodically down the field. They ran nine straight run plays, including a 20-yard gain by running back Gus Edwards after the Steelers went up by four points.
But the Steelers stopped the Ravens on fourth down when Jackson attempted to go for it just yards from the end zone. The offense couldn't sustain the next drive, though, and had to hold off the Ravens one more time with just 52 seconds left.
"Day in and day out ... a lot of people say, 'You all beat the Ravens, you all really are legit,'" Ebron said. "I'm like, 'But we went 6-0, how are we not a legit unit?' So, now that we beat the Ravens, more people understood that we're legit, and we're coming with our A-game every single time. That's the players we have in this locker room. That's the kind of team we have. That's the kind of coaching staff we have, and we're just going to come out here and continue to bring our A-game.
"We look adversity in the face and we attack it, and that's why we came out victorious."
ESPN's Jamison Hensley contributed to this report.