PITTSBURGH - The first 43 seconds were great. The remaining 59 minutes and 17 seconds were slow torture, though.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost to Baltimore 13-10 at Heinz Field Sunday night, a result that bulldozed a path for the Ravens to win the AFC North.
This is the NFL and upsets can happen, of course, but Baltimore settled into the driver's seat in the division race, which could leave the Steelers battling for a wild card spot for the second straight season.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Steelers safety Ryan Clark can't watch the final play of the game Sunday night.
Take a look at the stat sheets, and there's no apparent reason why the Steelers lost. They controlled Ray Rice, and they didn't allow Joe Flacco to do much in the passing game.
The difference was Jacoby Jones' 63-yard punt return for a touchdown and two Steelers turnovers that led to a pair of Baltimore field goals.
The Steelers couldn't do much against a defense that came into the game at the bottom of the NFL statistical rankings. The Ravens didn't miss Ray Lewis nearly as much as the Steelers missed Ben Roethlisberger.
Back-up quarterback Byron Leftwich appeared to have some sort of injury issue that worsened as the game unfolded. TV cameras showed Leftwich in discomfort after the unlikely 31-yard touchdown scamper that gave the Steelers the early lead. The Steelers said Leftwich was being evaluated for a rib injury, and third-string quarterback Charlie Batch was warming up on the sidelines.
Any hope the Steelers would rally around Leftwich with Roethlisberger out because of shoulder and rib injuries vanished early. The line did a poor job of protecting him and Leftwich took some major hits that seemingly left him wobbly by game's end. (The Ravens' Paul Kruger spent much of the night taking rookie Mike Adams to school).
Mistakes were frequent and costly. The Steelers had to burn two time outs in the third quarter, and went into a final drive with just one available. That may not have mattered anyway, because they couldn't execute on the last possession.
Rashard Mendenhall caught a pass near the sideline and inexplicably passed on a chance to get out of bounds and stop the clock. Another play went awry when Maurkice Pouncey bounced a shotgun snap and Leftwich had to pick the ball off the ground, then scramble to find something to do with it.
Just as bad was Brett Keisel's jumping offsides late in the fourth quarter, which let the Ravens burn more time that the Steelers couldn't afford to lose.
The Steelers wound up getting the ball at their own 16 with 1:05 left and one time out. The only Steelers quarterback who could have pulled anything out of that was Roethlisberger, and he was on the sidelines in baggy sweats and a baseball cap.
It was the second consecutive sub-par performance for the Steelers offense, and here's the bad part: It might not get better anytime soon. Roethlisberger's injury wasn't a one-week issue.
The Steelers play at Cleveland this week, then have a rematch in Baltimore after that. The Steelers are now 0-6 against the Ravens when Roethlisberger doesn't start.
The presence of past Steelers' legends didn't help, nor did a second playing of "Renegade," the song that's supposed to inspire the Steelers' defense.
There were limited opportunities, and the Ravens made just a few more plays than the Steelers did.
The Steelers had a great start, but virtually nothing after that. It's hard to beat any team that way, and it's especially difficult against the Ravens.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org