Harbaugh: "It was a hard-fought game"
PITTSBURGH -- With the Ravens offense sputtering and the Steelers chewing up time and yardage, the Ravens looked to special teams for a spark. Instead, the kicking team had two plays that coach John Harbaugh deemed "unforgiveable" late in the Ravens' 19-16 loss here at Heinz Field.
First, the Ravens committed an offside penalty on a surprise onside kick that was unsuccessful. Then, after they had tied the game with 1:58 left, they surrendered their longest kickoff return of the season -- which was about a shoelace away from being a touchdown.
Early in the fourth quarter, just after the Ravens had cut the Steelers lead to 13-9, the Ravens tried an onside kick.
Kicker Justin Tucker pushed the ball straight ahead and attempted to recover it himself, but he was clobbered as he touched the ball, and Steelers linebacker Vince Williams recovered.
Ultimately, the play failed on several fronts. Not only did Pittsburgh recover, but officials called an illegal touch on Tucker, saying he hit the ball before it had traveled 10 yards, and Jeromy Miles, who was lined up next to Tucker, was whistled for being offside.
Then after the Ravens tied the game at 16 with 1:58 left, Emmanuel Sanders took the ensuing kickoff 7 yards deep and outran everyone down the right sideline for an apparent score, but officials ruled Sanders had stepped out of bounds – barely – at the Steelers 37.
Still, that 44-yard return set up the Steelers in good position for their final, game-winning drive in a 19-16 Pittsburgh win.
Tucker and Ravens coach John Harbaugh both had no regrets about the decision to try the onside kick, just with the execution of it.
“We’re trying to steal a possession and give our offense the ball with good field position,” said Tucker, whose left ear was left bloodied by a helmet-to-helmet hit on the play. He said he did not any stitches, and that the injury was simply a cut and was not concussion-related.
“The idea there was to grab another possession,” Harbaugh said. “They had some long drives, and we were struggling to get possessions and get our offense on the field. … It felt like we steal a possession there and go down and win the game.”
Harbaugh, though, called the offside penalty on the kick “the unforgiveable part of the whole thing. I don’t want to see a guy offside when we do a surprise on-side kick. … If you’re offside, you’re not going to get it, so that’s the part that ticks me off more than anything.”
The Ravens defense stiffened on the short field after the onside kick attempt, holding the Steelers to a field goal for a 16-9 lead.
He also deemed "unforgiveable" the failure to contain Sanders on the long return.
"Our contain guy, that's just unforgiveable to let the ball get outside of you right there. There's absolutely no reason for that. ... That should have never happened."
It’s been a tough year for the Ravens special teams unit, with two blocked punts, several penalties and now the failed onside kick, which included another penalty.
Harbaugh cut his teeth as a special teams coach, so it’s likely those miscues cut a lot deeper than the one on Tucker’s ear.