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(Sunday, November 29th)
Final Score: Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 17 (OT)
Baltimore, MD (Sports Network) - Rookie linebacker Paul Kruger intercepted a Dennis Dixon pass and returned it into Pittsburgh territory less than five minutes into overtime, and Billy Cundiff made the Steelers pay by kicking a 29-yard field goal six plays later, as the Baltimore Ravens escaped with a 20-17 victory in a critical AFC North matchup from M&T Bank Stadium.
The interception, which came on the Steelers' second drive of the extra session, was Dixon's final play in what was otherwise a gutty effort by a player who had been the team's third-string quarterback up until last week.
The second-year quarterback, who had thrown just one prior NFL pass, was pressed into service when starter Ben Roethlisberger (concussion) and top backup Charlie Batch (wrist) were ruled out earlier in the week, and acquitted himself reasonably well.
Dixon completed 12-of-26 passes for 145 yards, a touchdown, and just the one turnover, keeping the Steelers (6-5) in the contest throughout and nearly coming up with the game's key highlight on a 24-yard touchdown rush that gave Pittsburgh a 17-14 lead with 6:24 left in the fourth-quarter.
"I was proud of him," said Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward. "He stood strong all to the end and he did the best he could do. We were really negated by some of the game plans because he really wasn't familiar with a lot of stuff. We just tried to keep things very basic. As far as I'm concerned, he played his tail off."
The touchdown was the culmination of a drive that began when the Ravens (6-5) committed a costly turnover after quarterback Joe Flacco was strip-sacked by outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons, with the ball recovered by Steelers end Brett Keisel at the Pittsburgh 46-yard line.
Flacco, who was 23-of-35 for 289 yards and a touchdown, was sacked a total of five times in the game but had a hand in some late-game heroics.
Following the Dixon touchdown, with the Ravens down 17-14 and facing a 4th- and-5 play from their own 46-yard line with 3:31 left in the fourth, Baltimore stared down what would have been a damaging defeat when running back Ray Rice kept alive a short toss from Flacco with a 44-yard catch-and-run.
Rice amassed 155 yards (88 rushing, 67 receiving) on 24 total touches (19 rushing, five receiving) against what was the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense entering the night.
"That was a way to get my confidence back," said Rice. "I like to take ownership for what I do on this team, and on the sack-fumble, that was my fault...and they scored on that drive, so I was down a little bit on the sideline. For them to call my number in that situation, it shows the confidence they have in me as a player."
Cundiff subsequently tied the game at 17-17 on a 24-yard field goal four plays later, and nearly had a chance to win it for the team in regulation after the Ravens stopped the Steelers on a three-and-out on their ensuing drive.
Baltimore would march as far as the Steelers 34-yard line in the final minute, but Cundiff's 56-yard attempt as time expired fell short, a miss for which the journeyman would redeem himself in OT.
"I came here to do two things, that was to make field goals and bring some stability," said Cundiff. "I've done that for two weeks, so now I've got to continue to do that because we've got a long road ahead, obviously. We've got games we've got to win in order to make the playoffs."
After forcing a three-and-out by the Steelers on the game's first drive, the Ravens struck first when Willis McGahee capped off a nine-play, 73-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown run. The TD ended a five-game scoring drought for McGahee, who had found the end zone in each of Baltimore's first four games.
Flacco was 5-of-5 for 50 yards passing on the team's opening drive.
Pittsburgh got even early in the second quarter, however, when Santonio Holmes became the recipient of Dixon's first career touchdown pass on a 33-yard catch-and-run to tie the score at 7-7.
Baltimore would take the lead into halftime thanks to a six-play, 89-yard drive, culminating in a 10-yard TD pass from Flacco to Derrick Mason with 1:45 left in the second-quarter. A 54-yard deep ball from Flacco to Mark Clayton earlier in the march, which moved the Ravens to the Steelers 16-yard line just two plays prior to the touchdown, helped set up the score that made the game 14-7.
The Steelers cut the lead to 14-10 when Jeff Reed was true on a 44-yard field goal at the 9:09 mark of the third quarter, accounting for the only points of the half prior to the dazzling Dixon touchdown run.
"We came up short. We accept responsibility for that," said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. "We will not go gently. We will unleash hell here in December because we have to. We won't go in a shell, we'll go into attack mode, because that's what required."
The Ravens snapped a three-game losing streak to the Steelers, including a 23-14 loss in last year's AFC Championship...Dixon's start was his first since Nov. 15, 2007, when he opened Oregon's game against Arizona before being lost for the season after aggravating a knee injury...Roethlisberger was dressed as the team's emergency No. 3 quarterback and participated in pre-game drills...Mason's first-quarter touchdown catch was his first score in 23 career appearances (regular season and playoffs) against the Steelers...Kruger's interception was the first of his career...Baltimore and Pittsburgh will meet at Heinz Field on Dec. 27...Baltimore running back Le'Ron McClain left the game in the third quarter with an abdominal strain and did not return...Pro Bowl defensive players Terrell Suggs of the Ravens and Troy Polamalu of the Steelers both missed the contest with knee injuries...In addition to the touchdown scamper, Dixon had a 31-yard run on the team's second drive negated by a holding penalty.
11/30 01:11:42 ET