Byron played his heart (and his right rib cage) out in this one, but the Baltimore defense prevailed…
When the Ravens won here last year, Joe Flacco threw a game-winning, 26-yard TD pass to Torrey Smith with eight seconds on the clock.
"We won by taking a safe sack," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said inside a festive visitor's locker room after the 13-10 squeaker against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Talk about winning ugly. When Flacco was dumped for a three-yard loss on third-and-two by James Harrison on Baltimore's last offensive play just after the two-minute warning, the most important objective was to keep the clock moving.
Sure, a completion that moved the chains would have been even better. But in a survival-of-the-fittest bloodbath when the teams combined to convert just eight of 31 first downs and with the Steelers out of timeouts, it was a matter of beating the clock.
Harbaugh's defense finished the job after a punt pinned the Steelers and fill-in quarterback Byron Leftwich into a corner, allowing the Ravens (8-2) to open up a two-game lead atop the AFC North.
"What we didn't do was give them an opportunity to win the game, which is just as important," Harbaugh said. "More teams lose than win in this league."
Take it from Ray Rice, the dynamic Ravens running back. He rushed 20 times for 40 yards, and so often when he thought he saw an open hole it was closed by the fast-pursuing Steelers defense. Rice averaged 2 yards per carry.
Yet he looked like one of the happiest Ravens in the house. He was even seen twirling a Terrible Towel and singing the Styx classic, "Renegade" as he entered the locker room.
"We don't play for stats here," Rice said. "We're playing to win games. The world gets caught up in fantasy stats. For us, the fantasy stat is 8-2."
They came to town with the NFL's 27th-ranked defense, and had the traditionally-stiff run defense gashed for 134 yards and 5 yards per carry.
The battered unit started Corey Graham at cornerback for just the second time this season as Jimmy Smith joined the other top cornerback, Lardarius Webb, among the ranks of the injured. But by the end of the night, Graham was a shining example for the virtues of next-man-up expectations.
Graham collected Leftwich's only interception, a leaping snag deep down the middle early in the third quarter. On the next series, he broke up a pass in the end zone for Jerricho Cotchery and crowded Mike Wallace enough that the pass was caught out of bounds, forcing the Steelers to settle for a chip-shot field goal, which chalking up another stop for the NFL's best red-zone unit.
But who cares about stats? This was another resourceful win for a team that has had five of its games settled by three points or less.
Baltimore's only touchdown came on a 63-yard punt return by Jacoby Jones, and what a difference it made.
Flacco had such a big arm to power an explosive offense the last time he visited. But with his assortment of wild passes and an apparently conservative approach, he was not the same quarterback this time around. In fact, on his final snap, he was instructed to take the safe sack rather than risk a costly mistake.
Done. Although he completed 20-of-32 passes for 164 yards, he never threw a pick or fumbled the ball away.
Still, the Flacco-armed unit converted just 3 of 14 third downs.
"I don't care," Harbaugh said of the third-down rate, with this weekend's trip to San Diego looming. "Prognosticators, you take that in account and predict the next game. That's what guys do. But every week is different."
"Yes, we have to get better to win this next game. We're not going to be able to put that kind of offensive performance out there in San Diego. But if we do, if we have to, I don't care."
The big takeaway for the Ravens is improvement, even with another smackdown of their biggest rival and a padded division lead. This is still a Super Bowl-or-bust type of mission, and it takes a complete team that is peaking at the right time to win titles.
"Everybody's looking for consistency," Harbaugh says. "Maybe there's a few teams that do that. I'd like to be one of them at some point. But the main thing is playing the game to win that game."
True enough, but the deeper this season goes, the more the issues that plague the Ravens will threaten the ultimate mission.
Said Rice: "I think it was Terrell Suggs who said, 'We're a pissed-off 8-2.' We've got to get better. Every week, it's something different."