Despite loss in Pittsburgh, Ravens control playoff fate
By DAVID GINSBURG, AP Sports Writer
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Following an agonizing night in Pittsburgh, the Baltimore Ravens took consolation in knowing their fourth-quarter collapse won’t necessarily impact their chances of reaching the playoffs.
In spite of Sunday night’s 39-38 loss to the Steelers, the Ravens (7-6) can end a two-year playoff drought by winning their final three regular-season games. It’s a task that does not appear to be all that imposing, given that the collective record of those three opponents is 8-31.
After facing winless Cleveland on the road Sunday, Baltimore hosts Indianapolis (3-13) on Dec. 23 before wrapping up with Cincinnati (5-8) at home on Dec. 31.
“It’s the National Football League. Those will be three very challenging football games for us, but we’re capable of doing it. We expect to do it,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We’re right there to earn a wild-card berth, but there’s three games left and we’ve got to make it happen for ourselves.”
Baltimore took a three-game winning streak into Pittsburgh and was coming off its most complete performance of the season, a 44-20 rout of Detroit. After spotting the Steelers a 14-0 lead, the Ravens moved in front 31-20 before being outscored 19-7 over the final 15 minutes.
“In the fourth quarter, the defense dropped the ball,” linebacker Terrell Suggs acknowledged.
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and a Baltimore defense that led the NFL in takeaways didn’t get any. Playing their first game without injured cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens had no answer for Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, who finished with 11 catches for 213 yards.
Asked one day later if he regretted not using double-coverage against the gifted receiver, Harbaugh replied, “I’m sure baseball pitchers wish they hadn’t thrown a fastball when they threw a fastball or a curveball when they hung one there for a home run.”
It was a stinging defeat against a bitter rival, and it provided the Steelers with the AFC North title. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the loss what that a defense that has already registered three shutouts this season didn’t force a punt in the first half and allowed Roethlisberger to throw for 228 yards in the fourth quarter alone.
“If you would have told me that our offense would put up 38 points against them, I would have 100 percent said we would have won,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “This is going to sting for a while, especially for the guys on defense because we care so much.”
But in a crazy up-and-down season in which the Ravens started 2-0, slumped to 4-5 and then won three in a row, they’re still in the playoff hunt.
“If we win out, we are going to go into the playoffs coming off a three-game winning streak, having won six out of seven,” Weddle said. “Hopefully this will just build our character and make us better in the long run.”
For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL