The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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November 19, 2012

Leftwich can't lead Steelers past Ravens

PITTSBURGH — Byron Leftwich hasn’t won a game as an NFL starting quarterback in 2,234 days.

After getting pounded relentlessly in the second half of a 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback will have to wait at least seven more.

With starter Ben Roethlisberger not available because of shoulder and rib injuries, Pittsburgh’s offense under Leftwich wasn’t consistent enough in moving the ball and lost two turnovers that resulted in the only points the Baltimore offense would produce.

“We couldn’t get into a rhythm,” Leftwich said.

Leftwich completed 18 of 39 passes for 201 yards and ran for a score but also threw an interception and was sacked three times.

“The difference is obviously that we didn’t find a significant play, particularly in the waning moments ... to put points on the board and allow us to get out of the stadium with the win,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said.

Not surprising. When the Steelers have needed that type of winning play in recent years, usually it comes from Roethlisberger.

Jacoby Jones returned a punt for a touchdown and Justin Tucker kicked two field goals for the Ravens (8-2), who moved two games in front of the Steelers (6-4) in the AFC North by winning another slugfest between two of the NFL’s biggest rivals.

“We knew it was going to be a defensive game coming in. It always is,” Pittsburgh linebacker Larry Foote said. “But in these types of games, we need turnovers. Their defense got two and we didn’t get any.”

Citing the type of low-scoring games the Steelers and Ravens traditionally play, Tomlin termed Leftwich’s performance as “great” before allowing, “Obviously, not enough plays by him or by any of the rest of us to secure victory.”

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.

“He’s the difference-maker,” Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “He’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, so you definitely want that guy under center. It’s bittersweet. Glad to have the win, but we’d rather have those guys (Roethlisberger, receiver Antonio Brown and safety Troy Polamalu) playing. It just does good for the rivalry, for football, to have both teams have key components.”

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.

“We just couldn’t get our rhythm,” Leftwich said. “There were a lot of third and sevens, a lot of third and longs. We could just never put two, three, four, five, six plays together. We would make a big play and then we were right back at third and nine, third and eight. It’s too hard to play a team of this caliber like that.”

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.

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 was reduced to watching, just as Roethlisberger was. 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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