Even without Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers are still a threat to any team. They are built such that their defense and their running game can win the game for them without a strong passing game. However, that wasn't the case last night.
Joe Flacco and the Ravens went on the road to Pittsburgh in what would turn out to be yet another archetypal Steelers-Ravens game.
It was a gritty game in which defense dominated each team's offense, and points came at a premium. The Ravens were able to stave off a Steelers surge in the last few minutes of the game to maintain their grasp on victory and leave Heinz field as the winning team.
We saw many things from both teams in this Sunday night brawl, but here are the five most important things we can take away from this AFC North showdown:
1. The Ravens are becoming a more complete team
A year ago, the Ravens were a run-first, defensive team who would sometimes sling the ball with Joe Flacco. This year, they are an explosive, pass-first offense that features Joe Flacco's arm.
As Flacco has matured and gotten better, the Ravens have opened the door for him to throw the ball around a bit and lead the team. The Ravens are having the best start to a season that they've had in awhile, and I believe it is because they are trusting their weapons more.
Flacco's numbers were not eye-poppingly impressive; he was just 20-32 for 164, but the asterisk on those numbers is that he was able to move the ball against a stout Steeler defense and was able to put his team in a position to win, and that's exactly what they did.
Ray Rice's numbers weren't that good either as he rushed 20 times for only 40 yards, along with five catches for 53 yards. This was a team win for the Ravens as they needed each and every player that was on the field to win, whether it was on offense, defense, or special teams, all those guys played a part in this win.
Flacco was scoffed at when he said he considered himself an elite quarterback, but now he is pullin' an Eli and proving everyone wrong. It seems as though Flacco performs best when doubted, similar to Mr. Manning. When Eli was scoffed at for saying he was Elite, he won the Super Bowl. Could Flacco do the same? We'll wait and see, but one thing is for sure: the Ravens have a wide open shot at the Lombardi this year, and I wouldn't be surprised if they bring it home to Baltimore.
2. Byron Leftwich still has some gas in the tank
I fully expected Leftwich to go back to his old ways from the tail-end of his career in Jacksonville; interceptions on interceptions on interceptions. Surprisingly, Leftwich didn't play that badly. Although he didn't win the game for his team, he certainly didn't lose the game either.
Leftwich also accounted for the Steelers' only touchdown, an impressive 31-yard touchdown run. I don't care who you are, if you play in the NFL and run 31-yards for a touchdown, then I am impressed.
Although he still did throw an interception, I think that's fine. It was his first start in the NFL since 2009 and he was going against a menacing Baltimore defense. Frankly I'm a bit surprised he didn't throw more than one pick.
Ravens and Steelers games can always go either way no matter the teams' records, and I think Leftwich could have won this game just as easily as they lost it. I don't think Roethlisberger would have done much better, so I'm giving Leftwich some deserved credit.
3. This is the best, toughest rivalry in the NFL
There is much debate as to which two teams have the best rivalry, and while many consider it to be the Redskins and Cowboys or Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, I believe it's the Ravens and Steelers. Two teams that are so similar, it's like they are each other's' evil counterparts.
Both have strong defenses, fierce running games, and quarterbacks who can make plays with their arms and sometimes feet, albeit clumsy looking, but effective.
Both teams are perennial playoff, if not Super Bowl contenders, and they could very well be meeting for a third time somewhere down the road this year in the playoffs. There is no love lost between these two teams, and that makes for an even more exciting matchup everytime they play each other.
The schedule-makers always get it right when they have these two teams play in primetime, it is always a thrilling game to watch.
4. The Texans should have kept Jacoby Jones
The sixth-year receiver out of Lane University came into the league as a third round pick by the Texans in 2007. After five solid seasons as a compliment receiver to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter, Jones was let go and was consequently picked up by the Ravens.
While the Texans are still a top team and will be making a playoff run, the one thing that they could really improve on is special teams. They let go of Jones in favor of Trindon Holliday, but have since let go of Holliday as well. Now they have rookie Keshawn Martin returning most of their kicks, and while he isn't terrible, he isn't as explosive as Jones has been.
Jones is averaging 38 yards per return and has four returns of 40+ yards, along with a few scores. Jones scored the sole touchdown for the Ravens last night, and his run back was only outshined by his entertaining endzone celebration. I wouldn't be surprised if he gets a call from Dancing with the Stars sometime soon, the man has definitely got some moves.
5. The Steelers should never wear those uniforms ever again
They might be the ugliest uniforms I have ever seen. It's hard to sell yourselves as a scary team when you look like a bumblebee. Unless you're allergic to bees, they aren't that intimidating.
In comparison to other teams' less-than-appealing throwback uniforms such as the Jets or the Packers, the Steelers are at the top of the list in the category of "we should throw these in the fireplace". Although they did pull off a win a few weeks ago vs. the Redskins in these, they failed to do the same against the Ravens.
Maybe John Harbaugh packed some bug spray for this trip to Pittsburgh and that's why the Ravens were able to beat the bumblebees? Well, you'd have to ask him, but when you lose and you're wearing these uniforms, it's gotta be tough to hold your head high.