Ravens top Steelers 13-10, control AFC North race
Terrell Suggs isn't ready to declare the race for the AFC North title over.
Besides, even if it were after the Baltimore Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Steelers on Sunday night, the veteran linebacker knows Pittsburgh still has the upper hand in the rivals' ultimate litmus test.
"They got it where it counts," Suggs said. "That's all that really matters is championships. These little independent battles is good for morale but until we catch them in the ring race ... we'll take the win but we've still got to catch them in that component of the rivalry."
The Ravens (8-2) took a significant step in that direction by shutting down the Steelers (6-4) and backup quarterback Byron Leftwich. The veteran completed 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards in place of injured starter Ben Roethlisberger. Leftwich ran for a score but also threw a drive-killing interception and was sacked three times.
"We went out there and we tried to make plays," Leftwich said. "Some went our way, some didn't. And it just wasn't enough."
The rematch comes in Baltimore in two weeks.
"It's like halftime," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "It's like we won the first half and the second half is coming up."
The Steelers certainly hope it goes a little better than the first.
Pittsburgh was a clock chewing, drive extending machine under Roethlisberger. There were considerably more fits and starts with Leftwich under center. The Steelers converted just 5 of 17 (29 percent) of third downs, well below their season average or 49 percent.
"We never found a rhythm," Leftwich said.
The Ravens weren't much better. Joe Flacco completed 20 of 32 passes for 164 yards. Running back Ray Rice managed just 40 yards on 20 carries, forcing the Ravens to rely on an old standby make the difference.
Typically, that's not a problem. But this is not a typical year in Baltimore.
The defense came in ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed and is missing spiritual leader Ray Lewis, who is on the injured reserve-return list with a triceps injury.
The emotional linebacker made the trip anyway, giving his teammates a lift in the locker room.
"We haven't been playing the best the past couple weeks, or the whole season, some people say," said Baltimore cornerback Corey Graham, who intercepted Leftwich in the third quarter. "We've just got to find a way to get wins and that's what we were able to do today."
The Steelers hosted a number of franchise greats, including Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Joe Greene.
Their presence was appreciated, though it did little to make up for the absence of safety Troy Polamalu — out again with a right calf injury — or Roethlisberger, the franchise's current standard bearer.
Roethlisberger offered to do everything he could to help Leftwich win his first game as a starter in more than six years and insisted all week the offense wouldn't change.
For a fleeting moment, Roethlisberger appeared to be right.
Leftwich went deep on the game's first snap trying to hit Mike Wallace, drawing a pass interference penalty on Baltimore's Cary Williams. Two plays later Leftwich — who joked all week about his lack of speed — bought time in the pocket, rolled to his right and made for the sideline.
Rather than slide or duck out of bounds, the 250-pound Leftwich got a block and raced — in a manner of speaking — 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Roethlisberger lifted his good arm in the air in celebration after the longest run of Leftwich's career, and the play seemed to give Pittsburgh a sense of confidence.
It didn't last. At least, not on offense.
The Steelers' second possession ended with a Wallace fumble that Ed Reed returned to the Pittsburgh 14. Baltimore managed only a field goal, but it seemed to bring the Steelers back to earth.
If that didn't, Jones did.
The explosive return man drifted under a Drew Butler punt late in the first half, sprinted up the field, cut to the right and zipped untouched to the end zone for his third return touchdown of the season to give Baltimore a 10-7 lead.
"They were trying to set up the outside wall, but I saw nothing but open field to the right so I thought, 'Why not go this way?'" Jones said.
Baltimore moved in front 13-7 in the third quarter on Justin Tucker's second field goal, more than enough to help the Ravens take a major step toward their second straight division title.
"They talked about how it was going to be a physical game, how it was going to come down to the end and it lived up to it," Graham said. "It was definitely a great experience. I look forward to it in a couple weeks."
NOTES: Baltimore TE Dennis Pitta left the game with a concussion in the first quarter and did not return ... Pittsburgh RB Isaac Redman also left with a concussion and did not return ... Pittsburgh RB Rashard Mendenhall had 33 yards in his first game in a month ... The Steelers travel to Cleveland next week while the Ravens play in San Diego.
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