Steelers Rewind

Instant Classic (Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY Sports)

Matthew Marczi takes a deep look into the players and plays that made Thanksgiving night's Steelers loss to the Ravens a classic.

There are a number of factors you can point to in order to help explain why the Steelers lost yesterday, and you'd be right about most of them.

You can point to the special teams that botched not only a field goal attempt, but an onside kick, and allowed Jacoby Jones a long return. You can point to the early inaccuracy of Ben Roethlisberger that led the offense to zero points in the first half. Of course, you can also blame Emmanuel Sanders if you'd like.

But don't forget about the third down defense.

A glass half full approach would say that the Steelers did a commendable job of holding the Ravens to field goals after the touchdown on the opening drive. But when it's five field goals, and they all seemingly benefited from squandered opportunities to get off the field, I'm left to wonder what was in that glass.

It began on that opening drive, with the Ravens facing 3rd-and-7 on their own 32 before Brandon Stokley beat Will Allen to the first down marker. Joe Flacco found Torrey Smith for a 54-yard connection just two plays later.

Then there was the 26-yard pass interference on Ike Taylor on 3rd-and-7 from the 47 that led to the first field goal. Or the back-to-back conversions on 3rd-and-8 on the Ravens' field goal drive to open the second half. The 34-yard completion to Jones two drives later? That too occurred on third down.

Every scoring drive, in fact, except the one set up by the long return by Jones, was aided by a key third down conversion. Even the 10-yard reception to Smith on 3rd-and-12 on the last scoring drive edged the Ravens into field goal range.

All told, Flacco finished the game completing eight of 11 passes on third down for 118 yards, including the touchdown to Smith. The Ravens converted 10 of 17 third downs and scored on all but two drives before the victory formation. If you're looking for a scapegoat to blame for the loss, the third down defense is as good as any.

WISH YOU WERE THERE

It's impossible to say with certainty that the season would have gone any differently had Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell been healthy all year, but the thought did come to mind watching this offense run through them in the second half.

The big tight end had his biggest game of the year, tying his season high with eight receptions and racking up 86 yards in the process. More impressive is that he caught every pass aimed his way that wasn't tipped, and 54 of his total yards came after the catch.

Most of that damage came in the second half, which began on the Steelers' first play of the third quarter when Roethlisberger floated a ball over the top to Miller for a catch and run of 21 yards. He even twice put the Steelers on the one-yard line in the fourth quarter on what initially appeared to be touchdowns.

Pittsburgh scored three touchdowns in the red zone against the best red zone defense in the league, and Miller had a big hand in that. After getting them to the one on first down, his seal on Daryl Smith led Bell on one of the easiest rushing touchdowns you'll ever see.

WISH YOU WERE THERE, TOO

Even in a loss, this was a big game for Bell, the Steelers' rookie running back—perhaps the best of his young career—but it ended prematurely, not to mention violently.

Thanks in large part to a career-long 43-yard carry, Bell finished the day with 73 rushing yards on 16 carries. He also added another 63 yards on seven receptions, giving him 136 yards on 23 touches.

It wasn't just the yardage that he racked up that was so impressive though. It was the way that he carried himself like a veteran throughout the game.

His development as a pass protector has been key to the Steelers' ability to run their up-tempo offense of late. He dug Mike Adams out of a hole after his facemask penalty as he wriggled his way for 29 yards on a screen to the 20 on what should have been the game-tying drive.

And he should have been the one to finish off that drive, barring a pedantic rule that defies the laws of physics and allows a play to end with the ball carrier suspended in mid-air in the field of play.

There is a certain irony in the fact that his hardest-earned yardage of the night did not even count, whereas the touchdown that did could not have been easier. Yet it will be the latter that sticks out most in the memory of this game.

A young player sacrificing his body for his team in order to complete the improbable comeback in the absolute biggest moment of the season, on the biggest stage—that's a powerful statement. And even though the Steelers went on to score a couple plays later, everybody knows it should have been his moment. He deserved to be there at the end.

He earned it.

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