PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers are still perfect, even amid all their imperfections.
Playing in the middle of the afternoon in the middle of the week in the middle of a pandemic, Ben Roethlisberger threw for 266 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown to JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the Steelers improved to 11-0 with a disjointed 19-14 win over the undermanned Baltimore Ravens on Wednesday.
The Ravens (6-5) lost their third straight while playing without more than a dozen players on the reserve/COVID-19 list, including reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson and running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins.
Backup quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled in Jackson’s place, turning it over twice in the first quarter and completing 7 of 12 passes before being replaced by Trace McSorley midway through the fourth quarter after injuring his left hamstring.
McSorley, one of 11 players promoted from the practice squad before kickoff, connected with Marquise Brown for a 70-yard touchdown run with 2:58. But the Steelers were able to drain the clock behind a third-down grab by James Washington, eliminating the Ravens from repeating as AFC North champions.
A COVID-19 outbreak in Baltimore forced the NFL to push the game back three times: first from Thanksgiving to Sunday, then from Sunday to Tuesday, and eventually from Tuesday to Wednesday. The teams kicked off in the afternoon to not interfere with NBC’s annual Christmas special at Rockefeller Center.
Good idea. The fewer eyeballs on this one the better.
While NFL commissioner Roger Goodell — shortly after saying on a conference call that the league was intent on completing the regular season on time — called it “a great game,” the product on the field suggested otherwise.
The Ravens couldn’t pass. Pittsburgh’s receivers couldn’t catch. And a contest that looked like a mismatch on paper — the Steelers went off as 10 1/2-point favorites, a rarity in a rivalry that is one of the NFL’s best — was instead a festival of blah.
Whether it was the extended layoff, the sea of newcomers thrust into notable roles for the Ravens or the idea of playing on a day usually reserved for the first real practice of a typical game week, the sizzle that’s long defined this series vanished in the crisp early December air.