AFC North: Ravens beat Steelers tighten grip on division

The grip by the Baltimore Ravens on the AFC North just got tighter. The Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday night 13-10 to take a two game lead over the Steelers. The Ravens now have a record of 8-2, while the Steelers lost their first game in their past five to drop to 6-4.

The Steelers had to play the game without their starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who was out with a sprained shoulder. Playing in his place was Byron Leftwich, a capable veteran who completed 18 of his 39 passes for a total of 201 yards. Leftwich scored a touchdown on the ground, but was sacked three times and threw a critical interception during a drive.

The two teams play again in two weeks in Baltimore. At that point, the Steelers will hopefully be no worse than two back and possibly one if they win this week and the Ravens lose.

Not helping the Pittsburgh offense was the poor third down conversion rate on the night. The Steelers only converted on 5 of their 17 third down opportunities or just 29%. Their season average for that stat is an impressive 49%.

The Ravens, even though they had their starting signal caller in Joe Flacco did not fare much better. Flacco completed 20 of his 32 passes for just 164 yards. The Ravens leading rusher, Ray Rice could muster only 40 yards on the night on 20 carries.

The Ravens had to rely on their defense in the game. Prior to this season, that had not been any problem for them but this season they have given up large chunks of yards and rank 27th in that category in the league.

Not helping matters is their linebacker and leader of 17 seasons, Ray Lewis is sidelined with a season ending triceps injury. Nevertheless, Lewis traveled with the team and helped pump them up emotionally in the locker room.

Roethlisberger tried to help Leftwich during the week in practice and on the sideline during the game. However, it was Leftwich’s first NFL start at quarterback in six seasons. In the first series for Pittsburgh, Leftwich rolled out, got a good block and raced down the sidelines 31 yards to score a touchdown. It was the longest scramble of the veteran’s career.

Baltimore’s only touchdown on the night came on a punt return by Jacoby Jones, his third return for a touchdown this season. Justin Tucker added two field goals for the Ravens.

Since 2005, the Steelers have a record of 0-5 against Baltimore when Roethlisberger does not play. The Steelers now must face the Cleveland Browns before traveling to Baltimore on December 2 to face the Ravens again. After the Ravens, the Steelers have San Diego at home, Dallas on the road and then two home games to end the season with Cincinnati and Cleveland.

Baltimore is off to the west coast next week against the San Diego Chargers before hosting the Steelers. After the Steelers game, the Ravens have Washington away, Denver at home, the New York Giants at home and end the season on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals.

The rest of the season favors the Steelers as far as opponents are concerned, but if the Ravens can beat the Steelers at home on December 2 they can put three games between them and Pittsburgh and nearly wrap up the AFC North title on that day.

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