Despite lacking star power, Ravens beat Steelers 28-10
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
BALTIMORE — Slogging through the rain without several notable stars and with very little at stake, the Baltimore Ravens relied on a strong defensive performance to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-10 Sunday and finish the regular season riding a 12-game winning streak.
Baltimore’s first touchdown followed a fumble by Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges, who failed to generate any offense in a game that meant far more to Pittsburgh (8-8) than to the Ravens (14-2).
Baltimore also scored on special teams when Steelers punter Jordan Berry couldn’t handle the wet football and Jordan Richards recovered the fumble for a touchdown. Fifteen seconds later, the Ravens tacked on a safety when Hodges was called for intentional grounding in his end zone.
Baltimore already clinched the top seed in the AFC playoffs, so coach John Harbaugh placed seven starters on the inactive list — including quarterback Lamar Jackson, injured running back Mark Ingram (calf), guard Marshal Yanda and safety Earl Thomas.
All seven players, six of whom were voted to the Pro Bowl, should return to action on the weekend of Jan. 11-12, when Baltimore opens postseason play following a first-round bye.
Pittsburgh entered the game needing help to fulfill its quest to become only the seventh team since 1970 to reach the playoffs after an 0-3 start.
The easiest route for Pittsburgh to qualify was a victory over Baltimore combined with a Tennessee loss to Houston. The Titans, however, won 35-14 to earn the final AFC wild-card slot. The Steelers could have gotten in with a loss, but all those equations included Tennessee losing.
Playing much of the season without their longtime leader, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers closed with a three-game skid in which they scored a collective 30 points. In this one, Pittsburgh could muster only 168 yards of offense.
Benny Snell rushed for 82 yards and a touchdown in place of injured James Conner, but Hodges offered no air support. Hodges went 9 for 25 for 95 yards, and his fumble on a second-quarter sack set up an 8-yard touchdown run by Justice Hill for a 16-7 lead.
Justin Tucker kicked four field goals for the Ravens, who did just enough offensively with backup Robert Griffin III at quarterback. RG3 completed 11 of 20 passes for 96 yards and ran for 50 yards.
Jackson drew cheers from the rain-soaked crowd when he was featured on the scoreboard screen, smiling from under a hooded cape while seated next to Ingram. Jackson and Ingram are a big reason the Ravens set an NFL record for yards rushing in a season, topping the previous mark of 3,165 by the 1978 New England Patriots. The record now stands at 3,296 yards.
The old mark fell on a 9-yard run by Gus Edwards in the second quarter. Edwards finished with a career-high 130 yards on 21 carries, and Baltimore amassed 223 yards on the ground.
Ravens rookie QB Trace McSorley made his NFL debut in the first quarter, gaining a yard and a first down to keep alive a drive that produced a field goal. The former Penn State star was inactive in Baltimore’s first 15 games.
Steelers: Pittsburgh heads home after missing the postseason in successive years for the first time since 2012-13.
Ravens: Baltimore opens the postseason coming off a first-round bye for the first time since 2011. The Ravens enter the playoffs coming off a franchise-record 14-win regular season.