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Old 12-25-2006, 05:30 AM   #1
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Default Playoff hopes dashed as Ravens' defense stuffs Steelers again

Monday, December 25, 2006
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Baltimore embarrassed the Steelers a month ago. Yesterday, the Ravens put them out of their misery, wrapping them in a bright package and sacking them from playoff contention.

The Ravens won easily, 31-7, at Heinz Field for their first sweep of this semiannual game since the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore in 1996. It officially eliminated the defending Super Bowl champions from playoff contention with a 7-8 record and one game left on New Year's Eve in Cincinnati. Baltimore, which clinched the AFC North Division last week, is 12-3.

"This definitely wasn't our expectation at the beginning of the season," said linebacker Larry Foote.

They expected to defend their first Super Bowl victory in style, to make a run at two in a row. Instead, they tripped over themselves in the first half of the season when they won only two of eight games.

"We just dug too deep too early," said defensive end Brett Keisel. "We tried to shove ourselves out and we couldn't do it."

The Steelers won five of their past seven but both loses were to the Ravens by a combined 58-7.

"Overall, we just didn't play the way we did last year," said Hines Ward, who led the Steelers with eight receptions. "We turned the ball over way more than we did the year before."

They added three more turnovers yesterday, two Ben Roethlisberger interceptions and a Willie Parker fumble at the Ravens' 3. Roethlisberger did not play well -- he completed 15 of 31 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown and a 47.2 passer rating. The Ravens sacked him five times, after bringing him down nine times in Baltimore.

"For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was not quite on the same page with the receivers," Roethlisberger said.

Roethlisberger was the team's leading rusher with 33 yards on four scrambles. Parker, who had only 22 yards a month ago in Baltimore, managed 29 on 13 tries yesterday.

Steve McNair threw three touchdown passes and the Ravens' defense dominated the Steelers almost as severely as it did Nov. 26 in a 27-0 victory in Baltimore that coach Bill Cowher called "pitiful."

Yesterday's score was not similar, the domination was.

McNair played as well as any quarterback who has beaten the Steelers this season. He completed 21 of 31 for 256 yards. He threw two interceptions but was not sacked.

"He made a couple of great throws tonight," linebacker Larry Foote said.

McNair threw a 35-yard touchdown to Mark Clayton with four seconds left in the first quarter for a 7-0 lead. Clayton beat strong safety Troy Polamalu on a post pattern.

The Steelers' offense, meanwhile, was nearly as impotent against the Ravens as it was in Baltimore. It did not convert a third down until the third quarter and was just 2 of 14 in the game. That made it 3 of 26 on third downs in two games against the Ravens.

McNair threw his second touchdown pass, a yard to tight end Daniel Wilcox in the second quarter. Baltimore, getting greedy late in the first half, changed the momentum momentarily when a pass from McNair glanced off the hands of Clayton and cornerback Deshea Townsend intercepted.

That gave the Steelers the ball at the Ravens' 40 with 1:51 to go and, with seven seconds left, Roethlisberger threw a 1-yard pass to tight end Heath Miller for the touchdown.

It would be the last and only hurray for the Steelers on a gloomy Christmas Eve for them.

The Ravens wasted little time reclaiming their dominance when they scored on the first series of the second half for a 21-7 lead.

McNair completed an 18-yard pass to tight end Todd Heap on third-and-13 to the Steelers' 25. On the next play, rookie Demetrius Williams got behind Polamalu and caught a perfect pass from McNair along the left sideline for the touchdown.

That more than anything ended the game.

"We just couldn't seem to shut them down," Keisel said.

The Ravens so frustrated the Steelers' offense that when they stopped it on third-and-2 with 3:53 left in the third quarter, Cowher decided to go for it on fourth down even though the ball was on his team's 37. Roethlisberger's pass to Ward was tipped incomplete and the Ravens got the ball.

Bryant McFadden stopped that drive when he intercepted McNair's pass on the 2 and celebrated like a kid on Christmas morning, not one whose team trailed, 21-7.

The Steelers were trying to get back into the game when their drive that started from their 2 late in the third quarter, ended when Parker fumbled on first down at the end of an 8-yard run from Baltimore's 11 early in the fourth quarter.

Another turnover with 9:39 to go sent fans streaming from Heinz Field for the final time this season. Roethlisberger had a pass tipped for the fifth time in the game, this one by tackle Trevor Pryce, and intercepted by Dawan Landry.

The Ravens, after a successful replay challenge by Cowher and a 15-yard penalty, took over at the Steelers' 16. Matt Stover kicked a 27-yard field goal for a 24-7 Baltimore lead with 7:27 left.

Roethlisberger's second interception, by safety Ed Reed, set up the final score by Jamal Lewis on a 1-yard run with 1:57 left.

"This is a good football team," Cowher said. "We just have not played that well this year, not consistently and not well enough today."
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Old 12-25-2006, 06:10 AM   #2
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Default Re: Playoff hopes dashed as Ravens' defense stuffs Steelers again

As much as I hate to say it... the Ravens look alot like we did last year at the end. They are poised with a great defense and a good running game to win it all.... I see it being them and San Diego in the AFC Tittle...that would be a good matchup in my mind...Go Chargers!!!
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Old 12-25-2006, 02:49 PM   #3
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Default Re: Playoff hopes dashed as Ravens' defense stuffs Steelers again

"For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was not quite on the same page with the receivers," Rothlisberger said.

That could be a potential problem for Rothlisberger. Hines Ward is one of the most under-rated receivers in the league, and he will fight for the ball if needed. During Rothlisberger's rookie year run a couple of years ago, Ward was a big part of his success along with the run game.
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