Kickers are among the lowest-paid players in terms of the position as a whole, but they can really decide lots of games. This matchup was all about the kickers, as Josh Scobee whiffed on two potential game-winners in the fourth quarter, missing from 49 and 42. Justin Tucker, one of the most-clutch kickers in the league, drilled a pair of attempts late - one to send the game to overtime, and the other to ice the victory from 52.
It's unfortunate for the Steelers, who had an inspired effort in the wake of Ben Roethlisberger's injury. Scobee, who was also brutal in the season opener, was so bad in this contest that Mike Tomlin eschewed a pair of kicking attempts in overtime because he had no faith in him. The Steelers failed twice on those tries, and Baltimore took advantage on the second occasion. John Harbaugh, of course, had no reservations about trusting Tucker from 52. Tucker is easily one of the NFL's top kickers.
Pittsburgh's kicking and fourth-down woes bailed out Joe Flacco. It was astonishing how bad Flacco was in this game. It's as if he happened to be the unprepared backup. The signs were there on the opening series when he was nearly picked off and then fumbled on a sack. He managed to recover the ball, but those two plays were a dubious beginning to his dreadful evening.
Flacco truly began to implode in the second quarter. Up 7-3, he threw one of the worst interceptions I've ever seen when he heaved the ball right to reserve corner Ross Cockrell. It was almost inexplicable how poor that throw was.
It then appeared as though there was something wrong with Flacco in the second half. The team came out and committed a false start penalty right away, and then he fumbled when the ball hit his knee. It was about to trickle out of bounds, but Cockrell somehow scooped it up and planted both feet inbounds to recover the fumble. Flacco was later nearly picked on a botched screen, and then he left a shotgun snap slip through his hands, resulting in a huge loss. In the final quarter in regulation, Flacco was stuffed on a horrible quarterback-sneak attempt on a fourth down, and then he fired a couple of passes behind his receivers. He wasted too much time on the game-tying drive, but Justin Tucker bailed him out.
Flacco went 20-of-33 for 189 yards, one touchdown and an interception. As mentioned, he was nearly picked several other times. It needs to be noted that Flacco had poor protection and missed Steve Smith late in the game because of an injury, but that doesn't excuse his miserable passes, awful pocket presence, or his 5.7 YPA.
Smith was banged up on a brutal hit in the second half. After he left the game, he tried to go back in, riding the bike on occasion, but he couldn't get healthy enough to return to the field. Smith let his fantasy owners down as a consequence, snatching four balls for only 24 yards.
Baltimore's leading receiver was Kamar Aiken, who logged five receptions for 77 yards and a score. You can ignore him, as this will likely go down as his top performace on the year by a wide margin.
With Crockett Gillmore out, Maxx Williams had just two catches for 17 yards. I expected a bigger performance from him. He's not worth owning with Gillmore due back soon.
Justin Forsett racked up nearly half of Baltimore's net yardage. Forsett gashed the Steelers for 150 yards on 27 carries. It wasn't very odd, despite Pittsburgh being usually pretty stout versus the rush. The team was missing Ryan Shazier, its top linebacker. He would've made a big difference in this contest, though the Ravens were missing a key role player of their own in left tackle Eugene Monroe. His absence was a huge reason why Flacco took five sacks - all from different players.
Of course, the big name who was out of this game was Ben Roethlisberger. It was encouraging to see him without crutches on the sidelines, but his backup will start the next several games. Pittsburgh's No. 2 quarterback was underwhelming, despite receiving an absurd amount of praise from the NFL Network analysts prior to kickoff.
His stats were misleading. He finished 19-of-26 for 124 yards and a touchdown to go along with nine scrambles on 33 rushing yards. That doesn't look too bad, but keep in mind that his YPA of 4.8 is on a Brodie Croyle-type level. He made a couple of nice throws and was able to pick up some first downs with his legs, but a few of his passes were way off the mark. He was nearly picked in overtime and was inaccurate on passes that could've moved the chains late in the game. He also took some awful sacks, including one to move his team out of field-goal range in the first half, though Josh Scobee probably would've just missed anyway.
Pittsburgh's backup is not worth owning in any league. Despite Deion Sanders' incoherent ravings, he's not nearly the same athlete we once saw in Philadelphia or Atlanta. Already one of the most overrated players in NFL history, he's a shell of his former self, and if the Steelers opened things up for him, he would've made many more mistakes.
Given that the Steelers were using a reserve signal-caller, it's curious that Todd Haley shied away from Le'Veon Bell on two short-yardage attempts during fourth-down overtime plays. Bell should have been given the ball. It's not like he was running poorly or anything; Bell trampled the Ravens, gaining 129 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries to go along with seven catches for 21 receiving yards. Bell became the first running back to gain 100-plus yards on the ground against Baltimore's defense in two years.
Pittsburgh's leading receiver, as usual, was Antonio Brown. However, he didn't have the type of performance his fantasy owners have come to expect. Brown caught just five balls for 42 yards. He sort of dropped a touchdown pass in the second quarter, but he had to dive to catch an inaccurate pass from his backup, so it's not fair to fully fault him for that one.
Darrius Heyward-Bey (4-31) caught a touchdown, but don't think about picking him up. If his inefficiency wasn't bad enough, Martavis Bryant is set to return to the team next week off his suspension. Markus Wheaton, who also shouldn't be owned, sustained an injury in this contest. He caught one pass for 18 yards. Sammie Coates (1-11) took his spot in the lineup.
CBS really needs to think about replacing Phil Simms as the lead color analyst. Simms, who is usually very bland, was mumbling incoherent and strange thoughts all evening. He pretended to read Tomlin's lips at the end, incorrectly telling the audience that Tomlin said "my bad" instead of what he really said, which was, "He made it." Simms also complained about the Steelers not trying a 50-yard field goal in overtime when Scobee had already missed two in the 40-49 range. And if that wasn't bad enough, Simms said that QBDK had never played in an offense with lots of weapons. So, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy were a bunch of scrubs, then? Simms also had an awful stance on QBDK, opining that he was a "changed man" simply because he spent a year-plus in prison.
There are plenty of other worthy color analysts who can take Simms' post as Jim Nantz's partner. CBS needs to make a move soon.
Jets XX, Dolphins XX
Falcons XX, Texans XX
Bills XX, Giants XX
Raiders XX, Bears XX
Bengals XX, Chiefs XX
Colts XX, Jaguars XX
Buccaneers XX, Panthers XX
Eagles XX, Redskins XX
Chargers XX, Browns XX
Cardinals XX, Rams XX
Broncos XX, Vikings XX
Packers XX, 49ers XX
Saints XX, Cowboys XX
Seahawks XX, Lions XX
For more thoughts, check out my updated NFL Power Rankings, which will be posted Tuesday morning.