By Stephen Stone (@SrStoneSports)
Cold Hard Football Facts’ AFC North Sniper
In 60 minutes on a Sunday afternoon, everything can change. When we woke up Sunday morning, the Steelers - sans their franchise quarterback - were in a lot of trouble.
The Ravens - despite a slew of ugly wins - were in the driver’s seat to win the division.
A Pittsburgh win in Baltimore has made the division much more interesting because just like that, the Steelers are two games back and the Ravens still have a remaining schedule (at Washington, Denver, New York Giants, at Cincinnati) that will make Baltimore fans sweat it out over the next month.
The Ravens didn't blow the division in Week 13, but it should make for compelling football.
Here are five things I learned in Week 13.
1. Charlie Batch threw his first touchdown pass since week 3 of the 2010 season. (Pittsburgh 23 Baltimore 20)
The ancient veteran was awful last week against Cleveland. There’s no other way to describe it. But, for as bad as he was seven days ago, he was that much better on Sunday. With Pittsburgh’s season in the balance, Batch channeled his Lions-era self and played like he was in his late twenties instead of pushing 40. The Steelers needed to win Sunday more than they have in any game this year, and Batch took it upon himself to lead his team to victory.
The turning point of the game came early in the fourth quarter. Trailing 20-13, Batch was intercepted in the end zone by Ed Reed, but three plays into Baltimore’s drive, Joe Flacco was sacked, fumbled and Pittsburgh recovered. Batch took over at the Baltimore 27-yard-line and four plays later he hit tight end Heath Miller for the game-tying touchdown, his first scoring toss in 798 days.
Batch’s heroics weren’t done, however, as he got the ball back with 6:41 left in the game. In 12 plays, he drove the Steelers 51 yards down the field and kicker Shaun Suisham nailed the game-winner. All of a sudden, things are looking up in Pittsburgh and, with Ben Roethlisberger coming back soon, Steelers fans are learning the sky is not falling.
2. Baltimore’s home divisional loss was incredibly rare.
It was a bad loss for the Ravens on Sunday, but it’s not something that happens all the time. Baltimore’s home loss was its first of the season, and following an undefeated 2011 home schedule, you have to go back to 2010 to find the Ravens’ last loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
In fact, the last time Baltimore dropped a home game was also against the Steelers - a 13-10 loss in week 13 of 2010, exactly two years ago this week.
The 2010 loss to Pittsburgh was also its last against an AFC North opponent before today. The Ravens’ dominance in the division is one of the reasons the teams has placed itself in position to win its second straight AFC North title. Moreover, Baltimore’s success at home could work in its favor going forward. While the Ravens play two tough teams in New York and Denver in coming weeks, playing both of those games in Baltimore will be a significant benefit.
3. Andy Dalton was bailed out by his defense and running game. (Cincinnati 20 San Diego 13)
Dalton posted a passer rating of 65.2 - by far his worst of the season in a Bengals victory. Prior to Sunday, his lowest rating in a win this year was against the Jaguars in week 4 when he posted a 96.7 rating. However, a defense that forced two Philip Rivers turnovers and a running game fueled by BenJarvus Green Ellis’ 118 yards led Cincinnati to its fourth straight victory.
Dynamic receiver A.J. Green failed to score a touchdown for the second consecutive week (and only third game overall this season) and Dalton had a less-than-desirable performance, but Cincinnati won the ballgame. At the end of the day, that’s what matters. And as the Bengals try to make the playoffs, the fact that they can win without stellar play from their stars bodes well.
4. Cleveland has a winning streak. Yes, a winning streak. (Cleveland 20 Oakland 17)
The Browns have won back-to-back games for the first time since weeks two and three of the 2011 season. They have won on the West Coast for the first time since beating the 49ers in week 17 of the 2007 season. The 2012 Cleveland Browns aren’t going to be remembered for being a good team, but they are making strides with their rookie quarterback and running back combination and young defense.
Brandon Weeden has had some poor performances this season, but he posted a career high 364 passing yards and his 88.2 passer rating was a good 18 points above his season average. The Cleveland quarterback may just be growing up at the age of 29.
5. Baltimore versus Pittsburgh was decided by a field goal.... again
Tell me if you’ve heard this already: The Ravens beat the Steelers earlier this season by three points and the Steelers beat the Ravens earlier on Sunday by.. you guessed it, three points.
This is the eighth game time in the modern era of this rivalry (since 2008) that the score has been settled by a field goal. That’s eight times in 10 regular season contests. You can all-but-guarantee it. That’s one of the reasons I love this rivalry. Let’s hope we get round three in January.