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Steelers sterling first half good enough for rare win in Baltimore

The score: Pittsburgh 26, Baltimore 9

The bottom line: After playing a dominating first half in Baltimore, the Steelers did everything in their power to let the Ravens back in the game in the third quarter, but the home team simply refused to allow that to happen, stumbling and tossing away opportunities before Le’Veon Bell finally ran over them late in the fourth quarter, scoring on his 35th carry of the day to secure a 26-9 win, his team’s first at M&T Bank Stadium since 2012.

It was over when…: Joe Flacco tried to let the Steelers sew the game up once, throwing an incomprehensible interception right into Ryan Shazier’s arms with 11:19 remaining at the Baltimore 48, but when Shazier got up and did Ray Lewis’ dance and his offensive teammates responded by driving four yards in three players and punting, it sure felt like a Ravens comeback was still possible. But have no fear, Flacco repeated the fete 10 plays later when a ball Shazier tipped wound up in Mike Hilton’s hands to seal the deal.

Play of the day: The Steelers offense was not crisp in the red zone all day so the TD they put on the board with :45 remaining in the second quarter, an 11-yarder from Ben Roethlisberger – who was better but not good – to rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster – who is much better than his preseason indicated he might be – was huge, making the score 19-0 instead of 15-0. The score also led to a Smith-Schuster celebration that saw him emulate a technique (kamehameha) from the video game DragonBallZ and sending the Internet’s nerd-ocracy into euphoria. It should be noted here that Smith-Schuster is 20 years old and likely will still be around when video gaming has replaced the NFL as the most popular sport in the world. This blogger, thankfully, will not be, so get off his porch now.

Player of the game: My Lord, what a force Cam Heyward has become this year. On Sunday, he turned in your basic two sacks, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery performance while working in the 1-, 3- and 5-techniques along the line. That kind of versatility is now crucial on a defense that could field as many as seven defensive backs on a play.

Hot topics:

+ Bad Ben was Better Ben Sunday but still not Good Ben. Most notably, Roethlisberger missed two relatively easy TD throws, one where he didn’t see an uncovered Antonio Brown (causing Brown to beat up a Gatordate cooler on the sideline) and a more concerning one where he dramatically overthrew Martavis Bryant on a fourth-quarter play where he beat his guy cleanly off the line and there was plenty of time to throw and he still overthrew the speedy received by 15 yards. Maybe the game plan Sunday was to get Le’Veon Bell untracked (with behemoth run stopper Brandon Williams hurt) and that didn’t lend itself to Roethlisberger winging it. We’ll assume that’s the case and guess there will be a similar game plan this Sunday aimed at getting #7 out of the funk he’s been in.

+ With the win, Pittsburgh is ostensibly two game up on the Ravens in the AFC North with a Sunday visit to the Steel City looming in December. But with the way the Ravens are banged up, it might end up being the suddenly rejuvenated Bengals who pose the biggest divisional threat. Andy Dalton has been on fire since he got his OC fired and the Bengals won their first game Sunday by dismantling the Browns. The Bengals come to Pittsburgh on Oct. 22 after their bye, which will make them especially dangerous.

+ Should we be worried about Chris Boswell? Just a little?

Zebra hunting:

+ Overofficiousness is bordering on crisis level in the NFL, with the average number of flags per game climbing toward 15 this year and games like the 24-flag one played in London Sunday between the Dolphins and Saints becoming more and more regular. It’s not as easy as saying “they’re just calling the penalties that are being committed” because we all know there is some kind of penalty on just about every NFL play. Judgment and restraint are going to have to be things that are quantified somehow and taught to officials.

+ That said, the Steelers still are committing too many sloppy and/or dumb penalties.

+ Wow, about those review overturns, we don’t know what to say. We think they both were wrong, simply because they were called the other way on the field and there was absolutely no clear and convincing video evidence to the contrary. The Antonio Brown play was especially puzzling because it involved the “process of the catch” rule we thought we finally understood after three years. But we were wrong. We had clear possession. One, two, three steps, receiver is now a runner. Knee down just before first visual evidence of the ball being loose. The call as explained to the CBS broadcast crew was the Brown was still a receiver when he went to the ground with the ball, meaning it’s not a good catch until he goes to the ground and maintains control, meaning the ball was still live when it popped into the air. We have a hard time believing anyone looked at that replay and saw THAT. The call that took the Ravens two-point play off the board might have been a makeup call (which don’t exist, of course, wink wink, nudge nudge, say no more) and it also might have been right, but there was absolutely no clear and convincing replay showing the runner’s elbow touch the ground.

Game mismanagement:

+ We have given up on Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger understanding there’s also a need at the end of halves to leave as little time as possible for your opponent after a score. Again, Pittsburgh set up shop late in the first half (this time a 1st-and-10 at the Baltimroe 12 with :50 left) and again instead of realizing that’s plenty of time and just getting to the line and going, they burned a timeout that ended up preserving :38 for the Ravens when Pittsburgh scored two plays later, enough time, of course, for the Ravens to get off a long field goal attempt at the second quarter buzzer. This has happened literally 15 times during Mike Tomlin’s tenure, it’s cost the team points and a win or two and it is never going to be fixed. While it’s not rocket science, it is, as they say, what it is.

In the booth:

+ While Tony Romo has spent most of this season telling us with uncanny accuracy what’s going to happen next, guys like Dan Fouts (heretofore considered a decent analyst) struggle to tell what happened already. The best example Sunday came when Cameron Heyward both caused and recovered a key Ravens fumble and Fouts description of the play was to say the Ryan Shazier has “a knack for the spectacular.”

+ PxP man Ian Eagle had a rare but understandable miscall in the first half, combining Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant to declare Antonio Bryant snagged a key Pittsburgh reception.

Sweet tweets: @MikePrestonSun: Good read, good pass, bad hands. (Blogger’s note: The venerable Baltimore scribe was referring, of course, to Mike Wallace’s first-half drop of what sure looked like a 75-yard TD pass waiting to happen. Huge overlooked play in the game.)

Next week: The Steelers (finally) return home to face the Jacksonville Jaguars, who followed up their total annihilation of the Ravens last week by losing to the Jets in overtime Sunday. It will be interesting to see a) how the Steelers handle the pregame and anthem in their own building, and b) if the Pittsburgh passing offense looks any better. The Jags feature the multi-talented and multi-dangerous Leonard Fournette in the backfield and the oft-errant (15 of freaking 35 Sunday!) Blake Bortles at QB.

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