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Old 12-15-2008, 08:08 AM   #1
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Default Holmes' score clinches AFC North for Steelers

Holmes' score clinches AFC North for Steelers
Monday, December 15, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


BALTIMORE -- You can page through Steelers history and find all kinds of dramatic victories, important victories, aesthetically pleasing victories and bigger comebacks.

Few regular-season games will rank above the one they played yesterday at M&T Bank Stadium, when the Steelers' No. 26-ranked offense scored the only touchdown of the game with 43 seconds left to end a 92-yard drive against the league's No. 2 defense to pull out a 13-9 victory and win the AFC North Division title and a first-round playoff bye.

That it came against their heated rivals on their field in a rough-and-tumble game and ended on a disputed 4-yard touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes only enhanced the flavor of it.

"Boy, we have an excited football team in that room next door," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said just outside his locker room. "Rightfully so. That was a ridiculously tough football game."

It was the second late comeback victory in a row for the Steelers, who scored 17 points in the final 7:14 to beat the Cowboys last week.

"Hopefully," Tomlin said, "that was the signature of Steelers football for '08."

The 92-yard drive staved off a defeat that would have locked the Steelers in a tie with Baltimore atop the division and a possible wild-card playoff berth. Instead, they clinched at least the No. 2 seed and a week off after the season before they would begin the playoffs at Heinz Field. And, if they win in Tennessee next week, they would have the inside track to the top seed.

"It's a good day," said Hines Ward, who caught eight passes for 107 yards and was among those wearing an AFC North championship hat in the locker room. "I'm going to wear it tonight, but there's a bigger picture. I want a Super Bowl."

That drive, and another outstanding defensive performance, put them in a prime position to seek that goal.

The Steelers' offense moved in fits and spurts and did not finish, settling for two short Jeff Reed field goals until they started the winning drive at the 8 with 3:36 left and trailing, 9-6. It took 12 plays, 11 of them passes including a spike to kill the clock. Roethlisberger completed seven of them for 89 yards.

"Seven [Roethlisberger] delivered, as he's done time and time again," Tomlin said. "I think a lot has been said about our offensive struggles, particularly in the last several weeks. One thing that is consistent is that when we need plays, when we have to move the ball, we have."

Holmes caught the final one on third down, as Roethlisberger rolled left, thought about running, then stopped and fired to his right. Holmes caught it with both feet in the end zone but the officials first ruled the ball did not break the plane and spotted it just short of the goal line. After viewing the replay, they changed their minds and ruled it a touchdown.

"I didn't know how that was going to turn out," said Holmes, who redeemed himself after muffing a punt and dropping a pass earlier. "I was really happy when they gave me the touchdown, but I think we would have scored on the next play anyway."

Said Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis, "We lost the game, that's the bottom line. There aren't any freaking excuses ... of course, he didn't get in, but they called it the way they called it."

Tomlin gave no clue afterward whether he would have gone for the touchdown to win it there or kicked a field goal to send it to overtime. But, as he said, it did not matter.

"Persevering and pushing through, whether it's a great defense, the weather, struggles, whatever it is, we found a way to get it done," said Roethlisberger, who completed 22 of 40 passes for 246 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions.

Until the Steelers put together the winning drive, both defenses were as advertised, No. 1 and No. 2 in the league and vicious. The difference before the drive was three field goals by Baltimore's Matt Stover, two by Reed.

"We wanted to come in here and shut down their running game," Steelers linebacker James Harrison. "That was really important to us."

They did not quite do that because Le'Ron McClain gained 87 yards and the Ravens had 112 total, on 31 carries. That edged the Steelers' ground game of 91 yards on 27 carries, led by Willie Parker's 47 on 14.

But Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco had the toughest game of all. He completed just 11 of 28 passes for 115 yards, was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, one early to Ryan Clark and one by William Gay that ended Baltimore's desperation drive at the end.

"They came after us just the way we planned on them," Flacco said.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Ravens took advantage of a Steelers punt to score first, only this one could not be blamed on Mitch Berger. He hit one from the Baltimore 49 that was rolling dead at the 11 when Jim Leonhard, surrounded by three Steelers, decided to scoop it up and run. He wasn't stopped until he ran 46 yards to the Steelers' 43.

The Ravens reached the 10 and no farther, and Stover put them on top, 3-0, with a 28-yard field goal early in the second quarter.

Reed tied it with 5:44 left in the first half, kicking a 31-yard field goal. The Steelers drove 68 yards on 14 plays and had a first down at the 16 on that drive.

The Ravens went back on top, 6-3, when they completed a 15-play, 69-yard drive with Stover's 26-yard field goal 49 seconds before halftime.

A series of plays each way led to Stover's third field goal, from 28 yards, to put Baltimore in front, 9-3, with 6:02 to go in the third quarter. The first play belonged to Baltimore's Sam Koch, who dropped his punt out at the 1. Then Holmes fumbled after picking up 9 yards on a first-down reception. Ed Reed recovered at the 16, but Baltimore had to settle for a third Stover field goal.

The Steelers put together their second scoring drive of the game, in the fourth quarter, and had to settle for a second Reed field goal, from 30 yards, after they moved 54 yards on nine plays and bogged down inside the 15.

The Ravens were moving in for a likely field goal at their 27 when, on third down, Lawrence Timmons sacked Flacco, who fumbled. Baltimore recovered at the 41, but was forced to punt.

It set up one of the best regular-season drives in team history when the Steelers started at their 8 with 3:36 left and down by three.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/08350/935267-66.stm
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Old 12-15-2008, 09:23 AM   #2
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Default Re: Holmes' score clinches AFC North for Steelers

Good article and thanks for posting. Holmes definitely owed us one considering he botched the one punt and fumbled on his one catch. The entire offense deserves major kudos for making plays when it counted.
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