For all of their shortcomings this season, the Baltimore Ravens are right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
Even better, the defending Super Bowl champions created some separation between themselves and the hated Steelers by defeating Pittsburgh 22-20 on Thursday night.
The victory provided the Ravens (6-6) with their first winning streak since September and proved that they are indeed capable of winning a close one. Prior to this game, Baltimore had lost five games decided by six points or fewer.
"What have we lost, five games by the narrowest of margins?" coach John Harbaugh said. "Those are the games that we need to find a way to win. I feel like we're getting there. I feel like we're a really good football team."
Although the Ravens haven't been able to generate a running game this season, are 1-5 on the road and have struggled to get into the end zone, they're still in the hunt for the AFC North crown and at worst, a wild-card berth.
"This puts us back in the picture," said Ray Rice, who was held to 32 yards on 12 carries.
Pittsburgh (5-7) had won three straight to move into a six-way tie with Baltimore for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. Now the Steelers trail the Ravens and know there is little margin for error over the final four weeks.
"We've got to get back to it," cornerback Ike Taylor said. "The season isn't over with. There's no time to pout or whine."
Here are three oddities and two things to know about the Steelers-Ravens game:
ODDITY NO. 1: Pittsburgh's Shaun Suisham was ready to kick the ball several seconds before holder Mat McBriar put it down on what was supposed to be a 50-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Suisham made his approach and pretty much stood there. McBriar handed to ball to Suisham, who was dumped for a 12-yard loss. It was a key moment, giving the Ravens good field position for a drive that they turned into a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
"We were doing it on a cadence to slow down their rush," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "And the crowd noise — I don't think that Shaun Suisham heard the cadence. I think he started to the ball early."
ODDITY NO. 2: Jacoby Jones appeared to be on his way to a 100-yard touchdown kickoff runback in the third quarter — until Tomlin got in his way. The coach strayed onto the edge of field, causing the Ravens returner to slightly alter course. Cortez Allen might have caught Jones anyway, but his task was easier because of his coach. No flag was thrown on the play.
"I always watch the returns on the Jumbotron; it provides a better perspective for me," Tomlin explained. "Obviously I lost my placement as he broke free, and I saw it at the last second, saw how close I was to the field of play."
Asked if he thought he interfered with Jones, Tomlin said: "No." But he added, "I was wrong. I accept responsibility for it."
ODDITY NO. 3: Driving to tie the game late in the fourth quarter, the Steelers twice had apparent touchdowns overturned by video review, with the ball spotted inside the 1-yard line both times. First, the frame-by-frame showed Heath Miller's right knee touching the ground before the ball crossed the goal line. Then it showed Le'Veon Bell's helmet coming off before the ball broke the plane — which automatically ends the play. Bell was left with a concussion on the hit from Jimmy Smith, and the Steelers didn't score until Jerricho Cotchery's fourth-down, 1-yard touchdown pass with 1:03 to go.
"It's definitely a whirlwind kind of emotions," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers would have tied the game had Emmanuel Sanders been able to hold on to Roethlisberger's pass on the 2-point conversion attempt. Sanders got his hands on it, but he was screened by cornerback Chykie Brown.
Said Sanders: "Ben gave me a good ball; I've got to make that play."
Roethlisberger said, "It wasn't an easy catch, and I could've made it a lot easier on him. So I take that on myself."
GETTING HIS KICKS: The Ravens got a touchdown on their first possession, then used field goals by Justin Tucker of 43, 34, 38, 45 and 48 yards to win.
Tucker has made 27 straight field goal attempts, including nine in the past two weeks. He hasn't missed since Week 2.
"I feel like I'm hitting my ball, and as long as we have this continuity between snap, hold, kick that we have had over the last several weeks, we know we're going to be coming back with points no matter what," Tucker said.
NO SACKS: Baltimore run of 22 straight games with a sack ended. The Ravens were seeking to set a franchise record by stretching the streak to 23, but Roethlisberger proved too elusive.
"The game plan was to get to him," Harbaugh said. "Early in the game, he was stepping up and making too many plays, stepping up inside, so we got pushed away from him a little bit. He does a great job moving around. He may be the toughest guy to defend in the pocket in football."
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