What A Game…

I’ve been a Steelers fan since I first started following football. I didn’t have any team I could really follow since I was in Portland at the time, so I went with a team that had some relation to my past or of someone I knew. My family started their lives in the U.S. in Western Pennsylvania, thus I chose the Steelers. They had a rich history, a lot of prestige, great stability, and played great football. So you can imagine what life was like for me when I moved up to Seattle and both Pittsburgh and Seattle clashed in the Super Bowl four years back: Total wrath, harassment, and hell from fans and even friends (of all people) that were from the Seattle. I was unfazed though. My team had won.

Fast forward a few years later. Steelers are making a run in the playoffs again. They get a bye in the first week because of their finish in the regular season. Then they beat up on the Chargers pretty handily, leading to third matchup with their biggest rival: The Baltimore Ravens. I had to watch this game. Two physical, defensive-minded teams battling it out for a spot in the Super Bowl.

And I definitely was glad to see it… and glad to see the Steelers come through and get a chance at another SB ring.

The way that the two teams play football was fun to watch. Hard hits. A bruising running game. Strong defenses. No mercy, smashmouth football. How the game was meant to be played. So regardless of whoever won this match-up, it would be a painful one to come out of in the end. They’d be glad to have the bye week to rest up and prepare for the Super Bowl.

From the kickoff of the game, people were already getting hurt. Two Ravens players were knocked out from some brutal blows by the Steelers special teams unit. You could tell how the game was going to be. Emotions were definitely on high. Kemoeatu got a personal foul for shoving over a Ravens defensive lineman after the play was well over. More hits late after the play was over. Hard hits from both sides. Limas Sweed with a punishing block for his teammate Heath Miller on one of the Ravens cornerbacks, Corey Ivy. So many players had to leave the game because of injuries or just being knocked out silly from a play.

When the Steelers had a 13-0 lead, it looked like they were going to run away with it. Big Ben wasn’t trying to make impossible plays like he does sometimes, but rather just playing it simple and finding the open man. The running game wasn’t working, but at least it milked the clock a bit. The defense was making some amazing stops, notably the one a fourth and short play and Troy Polamalu jumps over and stops Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco from sneaking for the first down.

But Ravens came back. Willis McGahee runs in for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 13-7. Pittsburgh could have scored one before the half ended, but some poor time management left it at 13-7, luckily for the Ravens.

The on-going chess match continued in the third quarter, with the only score being a Pittsburgh field goal by Jeff Reed, making it 16-7 (what it should had been at the half had they not screwed up on that drive). It all lead to the fourth quarter. Fifteen minutes left to decide the AFC champion and who would get the last laugh this season between these two defensive juggernauts. I don’t think I was ever as nervous watching a game as this one, as they started what looked like a comeback. The Ravens offense started to move the ball in the air more, getting them first downs. It eventually setup for another touchdown run by Willis McGahee, making the score 16-14.

It was nerve-racking to watch. Steelers basically needed to keep the defense stops going and/or keep the offensive possession for as long as possible to preserve the lead and the win. They tried, but it wasn’t working out the best. Third and outs weren’t going to cut it. And then it happened. Flacco looked to make a throw to Todd Heap, who was downfield. However, who he didn’t see was Troy Polamalu roaming free. Polamalu leaps up in the air and snatches that ball out of mid-air and comes down on his feet. Another Flacco interception. Seeing he has the ball, he starts running for the end zone. He runs into traffic, backs out of it, and runs to the right side of the field. He eventually finds a hole, running through it and gets the ball into the end zone.

Touchdown, Steelers. The security points that they needed.

This put a ton of pressure on Flacco and the Ravens offense again to make something happen or go home and watch the Super Bowl from Baltimore. And then probably one of the most brutal hits of the game that left everyone stunned.

Flacco is facing pressure from the Steelers defense and throws it to his safety target in Willis McGahee, whose in the middle of the field. But just as McGahee catches it and takes a step, there is free safety Ryan Clark to make the hit on him. He lowers his shoulder a bit and just knocks McGahee silly. Both players are in the air for a brief second before landing on the ground, motionless. Regardless of how much you dislike your rival, you never want to see anyone in the kind of condition that McGahee was at that moment in the game. He was on the ground for several minutes as the medical staff from both teams tended to him. Players from both sides came in. Some were taking a knee. Others were in prayer. The stadium itself was unnervingly quiet. It was a scary sight to see. Thankfully, McGahee showed movement in his limbs, and latest reports are saying that he’ll make a full recovery.

The game continued. But every person watching the game were still on their toes. While the Steelers had the ball from the fumble, they had another three and out and punted it. The Ravens had one more chance left to try to make something out of it, even though it was a two possession game technically. It was all about the two-minute drill for the Ravens, with only one timeout left. Make or break here.

It turned out it was break for the Ravens. Flacco passes it wildly into Steelers cornerback Tyrone Carter, effectively ending it. Zero touchdowns, three interceptions for Flacco.

The Steelers just took a knee and that was that. Steelers 24, Ravens 13. They become AFC champions and were going back to the Super Bowl, looking to get their sixth ring as an organization. But what was even more important was who they beat in order to win that conference title. If there was a team they really wanted to play against and beat, it was the Ravens. And they did.

I’m happy for the Steelers organization though. A lot of people had written them off in terms of going to the Super Bowl because they had a non-existant offensive line and too many of the other teams were better. But when it came down to the clutch moments, they responded well and performed well. The defense did its job and so did the offense. They quieted their critics and showed they can’t be counted out of a spot in the big game. And now it’s time to finish the journey, hopefully with another Super Bowl ring. There’s still one obstacle left: Ken Whisenhunt’s Arizona Cardinals. A lot of great storylines are forming with regards to the coaching staff and the styles and philosophies of the game between the two teams. It should be a good buildup and match-up between the two teams.

However, I don’t know if it will compare to this Steelers/Ravens game. This one will definitely be remembered in NFL playoff lore as one of the best and well-fought games between two great teams.

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