Sanders’ return keys Steeler win
PITTSBURGH – Emmanuel Sanders made the electrifying play in the Steelers’ first victory of the season last week and punctuated it with a flip into the end zone that drew the ire of coach Mike Tomlin.
When Sanders sent the Steelers fans at Heinz Field into a frenzy on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens with another apparent game-changing touchdown with less than 2 minutes remaining in a tied game, he didn’t perform a flip but instead slipped and fell in the back of the end zone.
“I know, right,” Sanders said when reminded about his flop. “I was getting ready to throw the ball into the uprights and didn’t want to hit a fan in the face so I had to improvise.”
The moment of awkwardness vanished quickly as did his possible 107-yard touchdown return. The officials gathered and ruled he stepped out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line.
But his effort was the impetus for a Pittsburgh two-minute drive that resulted in a Shaun Suisham 42-yard field goal with no time on the clock to lift the Steelers to a 19-16 victory over their AFC North Division rivals.
The victory was the Steelers’ second straight after starting the year 0-4, and the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens fell to 3-4.
“Nice win for us,” Tomlin said. “It took contributions in all three phases, and it’s good to get that type of result and under those circumstances. I think it’s something that we can grow from positively.”
The Ravens had marched 73 yards on 16 plays in 8 minutes to tie the game at 16-16 with 1:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. On the game-tying extra point, the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu was offside, allowing the Ravens to kick off at their own 40-yard line.
Justin Tucker’s line-drive kickoff was fielded 7 yards deep in the end zone by Sanders, who hadn’t returned a kickoff all season.
“I asked [special teams] coach [Danny Smith] what was the rule for me to bring it out,” Sanders said. “He pretty much looked at me and said that you’ve got the green light. When he told me that, I knew in my mind that I was going to bring it out, regardless.”
Sanders cut to the outside and raced along the right sideline next to the Steelers bench all the way for a touchdown. But the officials ruled his heel was out of bounds at the Pittsburgh 37.
It appeared in television replays that the officials were correct.
“I saw in the replay that [the officials] thought my heel was out, but I was up on my tiptoes. I’ll have to go back and look at it. It sucks because I wanted that touchdown.”
The Steelers offense didn’t make Sanders’ effort go for naught. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed a 7-yard pass to Jerricho Cotchery and 13 and 11 yarders to Antonio Brown to put the Steelers at the Baltimore 24-yard line.
The Steelers called a timeout with 3 seconds remaining, and Suisham connected on his fourth field goal of the game. Suisham has now made all 14 field-goal attempts this season.
“That’s my job,” Suisham said. “I’m happy that I did it. A lot of guys out there did their job tonight, too. It’s a big win for us.”
The Steelers seemed to be in control for most of the game with rookie Le’Veon Bell rushing for 93 yards, and Roethlisberger completing 17-of-23 passes for 160 yards. Most importantly, the Steelers converted 7-of-12 third-down chances and turned the ball over just once.
The maligned Pittsburgh offensive line, despite losing right tackle Marcus Gilbert to a muscle injury and replacing him with Guy Whimper, opened holes for Bell and Felix Jones and held the Ravens’ fierce pass rush to just three sacks.
“The credit goes to the offensive line,” Roethlisberger said. “They did such a good job of opening holes. At the end, the last play, they were begging for another run. They were almost fighting in the huddle – the right side wanted to run it their way, and the left side wanted to run it their way.”
The Steelers took a 7-0 lead on a Roethlisberger shovel pass to tight end Heath Miller in the first quarter, and then the game turned into a field goal battle. Eventually, the Steelers gained a 16-9 advantage in the fourth quarter after a botched Ravens onside kick.
The Pittsburgh defense had gone nearly two whole games without allowing a touchdown before Baltimore’s Joe Flacco hit tight end Dallas Clark on a 1-yard score to tie the game with 2 minutes left.
The Steelers had eight offensive possessions in the game and punted once, and the Ravens had just seven possessions and punted three times.
“When you get a game like that where you have so few possessions, you have to make them all count,” Flacco said. “We weren’t able to get in the end zone enough.”
The Steelers will try and build on their success when they travel to Oakland next Sunday to play the 2-4 Raiders at 4:05 p.m. The Raiders had a bye this week.
“There is nothing really to celebrate,” Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley said. “Right now, we have to continue to move forward. We have to continue to stack the wins. We put ourselves in this hole, and we still have to get out of it.”