PITTSBURGH — A few hours before Baltimore and Pittsburgh kicked off their Week 12 game, Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt offered some advice for his teammates.
"Good luck to the boys today. Pad the stats - should be an easy one," Tuitt posted on Twitter because he was on the reserve/COVID-19 list.
The game was everything but easy for Pittsburgh.
The decimated Ravens stayed within striking distance but could not overcome the Steelers, who remained undefeated with a 19-14 victory.
Baltimore (6-5) dropped its third straight game.
“Honestly, we’re disappointed that we didn’t win this game, but we fought," Ravens special teams ace Anthony Levine said. "That’s a good football team over there, and we respect them, but they respect us, too. We fought, and we gave them everything that we had. It came down to a couple of plays here and there, but at the end of the day, we fought like Ravens do. We can walk out of here with our heads held high.”
The game was originally scheduled for Thanksgiving night before a startling number of players for Baltimore tested positive for COVID-19.
Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley entered in the final quarter and threw a 70-yard touchdown pass to Marquise Brown that pulled the Ravens to within one score with 2:58 remaining. However, Baltimore could not find any more magic over the final stretch to erase the deficit.
“We had to deal with the whole COVID-19 thing and all of that, and then we never knew what was coming, so it was just being ready to go at any time," McSorley said. "Whether it was jumping into a meeting or getting to the field house once we were finally cleared, so we just had to always be ready these past couple of days. We didn’t really know what was going on, but you just take the punches and roll with them the past couple of days, and then finally got cleared two days before the game to come in.
"Tough situation, but I wish we were able to win the game, and it would have been a great story. We were just handling the ups and downs and being ready for whatever came.”
The Ravens were missing 16 players because of COVID-19 issues, including quarterback and reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson, tight end Mark Andrews, wide receiver Willie Snead, centers Matt Skura and Par Mekari, outside linebackers Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, and defensive linemen Calais Campbell.
Robert Griffin III made his first start since last season's regular-season finale against the Steelers. RG3 completed seven of 12 pass attempts for 33 yards with an interception. He also ran for 68 yards on seven carries before leaving with a hamstring injury.
Baltimore managed 129 yards rushing,
Pittsburgh (11-0) took a 19-7 lead on a 1-yard pass from Ben Roethlisberger to JuJu Smith-Schuster with 13;20 left in the fourth quarter. After McSorley threw the touchdown pass to Brown, Roethlisberger took over and completed a 16-yard pass to James Washington on a 3rd and 5 that extended a drive and allowed the Steelers to run out the clock.
"A lot of guys showed their true character today," left guard Bradley Bozeman. "I'm proud of our team right now. They came in there and busted their butt tonight."
The Steelers were 6 of 14 on third down and 1 of 4 in the red zone. Roethlisberger was 36 of 51 for 266 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Griffin did not get off to a good start, throwing. a pick-six to Joe Haden on the Ravens' second third possession.
Baltimore responded with a big play of its own when Davontae Harris forced a fumble on Steelers return Ray-Ray McCloud that was recovered by Levine on the 16. That set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Edwards that provided a 7-6 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“I saw Davontae Harris running down as the single gunner, and my job is to protect it and get downfield," Levine said. "I saw Davontae – he was one-on-one – and I saw him funnel him up, and as soon as he funneled, I saw the ball. As soon as I saw the ball, and I knew when the ball was fumbled on a punt return, you can’t advance it, but I didn’t want to jump on the ball and then it pop out, so I had to scoop it.”
The Ravens had a chance to take the lead at the half but Luke Willson could not hold onto a pass in the end zone and the Steelers led 12-7 at the break. Baltimore was short on time because the Pittsburgh defenders appeared to lay on the ball to take crucial time off the clock on the previous play and that proved to be a huge factor in the final outcome.
What It Means:
The Steelers are in the driver's seat to earn the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. However, Kansas City (10-1) is right on Pittsburgh's heels.
The Ravens likely need to win four of their final five games to make the playoffs. They play one team — the Cleveland Browns (8-3) — that has a winning record over that stretch.
Steelers: The home game against the Washington Football Team is rescheduled for Monday, Dec. 7, at 5 p.m.
Ravens: The originally scheduled for Thursday night against visiting Dallas was pushed back to Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 8:05 p.m.