Six days after it was initially set to kick off, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers played their Week 12 game on a rare Wednesday. A depleted Baltimore squad, despite quarterback Trace McSorley's best effort, couldn't overcome an AFC North-leading Pittsburgh squad spurred by its playmaking defense, which led the Steelers to a 19-14 win and an 11-0 start to the season.
1) We shouldn't have expected anything more than a Mid-American Conference weeknight slop-fest (affectionately known as #MACtion) from two teams that didn't know for certain if they'd play until, well, hours before kickoff. Four turnovers happened in rapid succession in the first quarter: A botched read-option exchange between Robert Griffin III and Gus Edwards resulted in a fumble, Ben Roethlisberger threw a laughable interception to Tyus Bowser in the end zone, Griffin followed that up with a pick-six, and Ray-Ray McCloud muffed a punt. The sequence suggested we might be in for a comedy of errors in this mid-week affair, but fortunately for the Steelers, the giveaways stopped there (though the fumbles weren't finished for the night). Wednesday afternoon/evening football -- which was originally supposed to be on Thursday and then Sunday and then Tuesday -- played on Sunday Night Football isn't exactly setting the table for a showcase. It was entertaining until the end, at least, and we can all leave this one behind us knowing the Steelers (11-0) are still undefeated, and that this contest shouldn't serve as admissible evidence for anyone's long-term analysis.
2) Baltimore's depleted roster made this one a steep climb at best for the Ravens (6-5), and when it came down to winning time, the difference in available talent was glaring. We can start at quarterback, or we could pivot to the fact the Ravens were forced to send their third-string center out for this one. What about at slot corner, where the Ravens relied on Tramon Williams -- is this the first you're hearing of him still being in the league at 37-years-old, despite the fact he's actually played in each of the last three weeks? -- who ended up being a step too slow to prevent JuJu Smith-Schuster from scoring? Or how about running back, where the Ravens turned to Justice Hill and Edwards, who combined for 45 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries? We could go on, but the point is clear: These Ravens weren't near full-strength, which we all anticipated with this game's multiple postponements, reschedulings and massive roster changes just before kickoff. Baltimore's best ally is now time -- for players to safely exit the reserve/COVID-19 list and get back to action. At 6-5, they're going to have to get busy to reach the postseason in a hotly contested AFC wild card race.
3) Blame it on the rust, or on Baltimore's inspired defense amid unfortunate circumstances, or on the rivalry, if you must, but this Steelers offense does not look like one that is undefeated. A smattering of miscues (Diontae Johnson dropped a sure touchdown off his thigh and another that brought the team's total to six drops, and Roethlisberger threw a YOLO ball on fourth and goal for an interception, for example) marred the first half for the Steelers, with Mike Tomlin telling NBC's Michelle Tafoya the whole half came down to his offense simply not being able to execute. They executed enough in the second half when Roethlisberger connected with Smith-Schuster on Pittsburgh's most complete possession of the afternoon (or evening?), and while the strange schedule surely had something to do with it, the Steelers' offense is concerning. Pittsburgh's defense remains a beast, but it's difficult to see this group going toe to toe with the likes of Kansas City. We'll worry about that when we get to it, I suppose. The Steelers are 11-0, even if it wasn't pretty.
4) A tip of the cap is due for Griffin, who gave it more than the ol' college try before exiting in the fourth quarter. Griffin led the Ravens in rushing with 68 yards on seven attempts, more than doubling his passing yardage total of 33. He threw an ugly interception that was returned for a touchdown by Joe Haden, but he also wasn't exactly armed with the latest weaponry necessary to defeat the league's only remaining undefeated team in a strange, mid-week game prefaced by just one practice. Trace McSorley accounted for Baltimore's lone passing score in a stunner of a play that ended up in the end zone because of Terrell Edmunds' failed, flailing attempt to break up a pass to Marquise Brown, who took it the distance to keep things interesting. The Ravens needed a spark, and McSorley provided them with one, sort of. Lamar Jackson can't return soon enough.
5) Sensing the desperation of the Ravens' current state, defensive coordinator Wink Martindale turned up the heat at the start of the second half, which helped keep this game close. Safety Chuck Clark was all over the field, recording 13 tackles and making key plays on the ball to limit Pittsburgh's attempt to blow this one open with deep shots. But when it came down to needing a stop to remain in the game, Baltimore couldn't quite do it, giving up the inch needed to earn a new set of downs and kneel this one out. For a team that transitioned from a defense-reliant squad to a rushing juggernaut in 2019, it was refreshing to see Baltimore's defensive passion play a key role in this one. It was the only thing that kept this game close. We'll see if their eighth-ranked unit can keep it up down the stretch in what now must become a frantic, victorious push for the playoffs.