BALTIMORE – The fans at M&T Bank Stadium booed when the Baltimore Ravens took a knee for unity before they stood for the playing of the national anthem Sunday.
They should have saved their displeasure for a different player kneeling.
That would be Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who took a knee as Pittsburgh ran out the final seconds of the game clock in a 26-9 thrashing of the Ravens.
The knee Roethlisberger took was one of the few negative runs in the game for the Steelers, who rushed for 173 grueling yards, including 144 by Le’Veon Bell on 35 attempts, as Pittsburgh won in Baltimore for the first time since 2012.
“We did a good job sticking to the run,” said Bell, who had 186 total yards and two rushing touchdowns. “The offensive line kept digging at it. They blocked really well and our wide receivers blocked really well. The holes got bigger as the game went on.”
The win put the Steelers (3-1) in first place all by themselves, knocking the Ravens to 2-2. More importantly, it gave Pittsburgh a chance to put some distance between itself and the drama of what happened last week in Chicago.
The Steelers were largely criticized for attempting to stay in a stadium tunnel during the playing of the national anthem in response to President Donald Trump’s statements that players who did not stand for the anthem should be fired.
That display backfired when offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, could be seen outside the tunnel when the anthem played. Captains Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Heyward and Tyler Matakevich were supposed to stand with Villanueva with the team just behind.
What was supposed to be a show of unity turned into firestorm. Instead of being distracted, the Steelers felt it brought them closer together.
“I thought our guys responded in the appropriate way,” head coach Mike Tomlin said. “Not only to the environment; the opponent; but just largely to the challenge all week. Just being able to stay focused and stay together and do the job professionals are called on to do. I think they revealed a little bit about themselves in the midst of the process of getting ready to play.”
The Steelers had a gameplan that included plenty of Bell, who had, by his own admission, not looked special in the first three games when he averaged only 3.5 yards per carry.
Though it took a lot of carries, Bell plugged away and Pittsburgh’s defense limited Baltimore.
Pittsburgh dominated the first half, taking a 19-0 lead, rolling up 253 yards to only 69 for the Ravens, who were coming off a 44-7 loss in London to Jacksonville last Sunday.
After forcing a punt on Baltimore’s first possession, the Steelers put together a 16-play, 84-yard drive that started at their own 3-yard line. The drive, which ended in a Chris Boswell field goal, featured 10 runs for 58 yards.
“We came in here with a gameplan to run the ball as much as we could and run it out of shotgun formations,” said Roethlisberger, who threw for 216 yards and a touchdown, that coming late in the second quarter to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster.
“That drive was big for us. We got the ball at our own 3-yard line and took the ball down the field. I think we used up most of the quarter. Even though we had to settle for a field goal, it gave us some momentum.”
That momentum was taken by Baltimore in the third quarter on a bizarre interception by safety Eric Weddle.
Roethlisberger threw a short third-down pass to Antonio Brown, who took two steps with the ball before being tackled. The ball popped into the air but was ruled an incompletion because Brown appeared to have contacted the ground before it came loose.
Upon review, however, it was ruled Brown never controlled the ball and since it didn’t touch the ground, it was an interception, giving Baltimore the ball at the Pittsburgh 18.
The Ravens got a field goal on that possession and then a 50-yard run by Alex Collins on their next possession set up a 16-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to former Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace. A two-point conversion run failed,but Baltimore had trimmed the lead to 19-9.
The Steelers, who sacked Flacco four times, intercepted a pair of passes in the fourth quarter – one each by linebacker Ryan Shazier and cornerback Mike Hilton – to keep Baltimore from getting any closer.
And Bell kept running, carrying the ball seven times in an eight-play drive after Hilton’s first career interception. Bell capped that possession with a 1-yard TD run to essentially end the game.
“I just thought everybody complimented each other,” said Heyward. “If the defense gave up a play, the offense responded. Or if the defense got a turnover, the offense scored. You’ve got to have that balance to turn to. We played an almost complete game. We gave up some big runs, but that’s something we can improve on.”
Odds and end zones
Collins had runs of 50 and 23 yards but finished with 82 yards on nine carries. The Ravens had 82 yards on 14 rushing attempts. … Bell had a long run of 21 yards, and rookie James Conner added a 23-yard run in the first quarter. … Hilton also had his first career sack. … Flacco passed for 235 yards but was 31 of 49 with a long gain of 16 yards. … Shazier led the Steelers with 11 tackles, including 10 solo, and Heyward had two of Pittsburgh’s four sacks. … Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley had 12 tackles for Baltimore.