The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local Sports

November 19, 2012

Steelers’ offense sputters in loss under Leftwich

PITTSBURGH — The Baltimore Ravens shut down Byron Leftwich, and Jacoby Jones supplied the offense they needed to grab control of the AFC North.

Jones returned a punt for a touchdown, Justin Tucker kicked two field goals and Baltimore beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 13-10 on Sunday night in another slugfest between two of the NFL’s biggest rivals.

The Ravens (8-2) moved two games in front of the Steelers (6-4) by shutting down Pittsburgh’s offense, which sputtered without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Leftwich, making his first start in more than three years, completed 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards and an interception. He ran for a score but was also sacked three times.

Baltimore’s Joe Flacco wasn’t much better, completing 20 of 32 passes for 164 yards, but the Ravens didn’t need Flacco to dominate to beat the Steelers for the third straight time at Heinz Field.

The Steelers fell to 0-5 against the Ravens since 2005 when Roethlisberger doesn’t start. The two-time Super Bowl winner is out indefinitely with a sprained right shoulder and a dislocated rib.

Leftwich was looking for his first win as a starter since Oct. 8, 2008, a span of 2,234 days. He’ll have to wait at least seven more after the Ravens pounded him relentlessly in the second half.

The 32-year-old Leftwich took a series of shots, none more painful than a blindside sack by James Ihedigbo that forced Pittsburgh doctors to check him out for a rib injury.

Baltimore’s offense struggled against the NFL’s No. 1 ranked defense. Ray Rice finished with just 40 yards on 20 carries but it didn’t matter.

The Ravens ran out most of the final 4:33 behind Rice and a pair of Pittsburgh penalties. The Steelers could do little to stop the clock after Leftwich burned two timeouts in the span of two plays during a late third quarter drive.

That drive ended with a 22-yard Shaun Suisham field goal that drew the Steelers within 13-10. They would get no closer, as the efficient, clock-chewing machine offensive coordinator Todd Haley built around Roethlisberger crumbled.

The Ravens aren’t quite the snarling, intimidating force they have been in years past. The defense came in ranked 27th in the league in yards allowed and is missing spiritual leader Ray Lewis, who is on the injured reserve-return list with a triceps injury.

Lewis made the trip anyway, giving his teammates a needed emotional lift in the locker room.

The Steelers hosted a number of franchise greats, including Hall-of-Famers Lynn Swann, John Stallworth and Joe Greene.

Their presence was appreciated, though it did little to make up for the absence of the team’s current franchise standard bearer.

Roethlisberger insisted all week the offense wouldn’t change with Leftwich under center and offered to do everything he could to help Leftwich keep Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak alive.

Clad in a gray sweatsuit, his right arm in a sling to protect his busted right shoulder, Roethlisberger spent the night as the highest paid assistant coach on the field.

For a fleeting moment, it worked.

Leftwich went deep on the game’s first snap trying to hit Mike Wallace, drawing a pass interference penalty on Baltimore’s Cary Williams. Two plays later Leftwich – who joked all week about his lack of speed – bought time in the pocket, rolled to his right and made for the sideline.

Rather than slide or duck out of bounds, the 250-pound Leftwich got a block and raced – in a manner of speaking – 31 yards for a touchdown to give the Steelers a 7-0 lead. Roethlisberger lifted his good arm in the air in celebration after the longest run of Leftwich’s career, and the play seemed to give Pittsburgh a sense of confidence.

It didn’t last. At least, not on offense.

The Steelers’ second possession ended with a Wallace fumble that Ed Reed returned to the Pittsburgh 14. Baltimore managed only a field goal, but it seemed to bring the Steelers back to earth.

If that didn’t, Jones did.

The explosive return man drifted under a Drew Butler punt late in the first half, sprinted up the field, cut to the right and zipped untouched to the end zone for his third return touchdown of the season to give Baltimore a 10-7 lead.

Baltimore moved in front 13-7 in the third quarter on Tucker’s second field goal, more than enough to lift the Ravens to their 12th straight AFC North victory.

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