The Pittsburgh Steelers are AFC North champions again in 2016. The team relied heavily on their three superstars to pull out a victory over bitter division rivals the Baltimore Ravens. Le’veon Bell, Antonio Brown, and Ben Roethlisberger took over the game, particularly on the games final two drives. Brown made a play that will be among the greatest highlights in Steeler history by stretching that ball over the goal line on the final play of the game winning drive. Running back Le’Veon Bell continued his MVP type season by rushing for 122 yards and 1 touchdown. Finally, Ben Roethlisberger overcame two costly interceptions to lead the team on two straight touchdown drives in the fourth quarter. The “Big 3” certainly did their part to help the team to victory.
Taking all that into account, Pittsburgh does not win without key contributions from it’s many rookies who played in this game. On offense, wide receiver Eli Rogers had one of his best games of the year. Rogers had 4 catches for 84 yards, and none more spectacular then his last on the games most crucial drive. He seems to enjoy playing against the Ravens, seeing how last time the teams met Rogers had 6 catches for 103 yards. Xavier Grimble caught the games first touchdown, filling in for the injured Ladarius Green. Many people counted the rookie tight end out once Green returned from the IR, but he may yet play a big role with this team going forward. The long wait for 6th round pick Demarcus Ayers ended on Sunday. Ayers made his presence felt on the next to last drive of the game. During that drive, he would draw a pass interference call that would place Pittsburgh in the redzone. He also made a key block on the cornerback to help spring Bell for a touchdown to finish off that drive. On the games final drive, Ayers would get his first career catch in the NFL.
On defense it was more of the same we’ve seen for the past eight weeks or so. The first three draft picks all contributing in a big way to Pittsburgh’s dramatic revival on defense. The defensive line has been decimated by injuries, but first year players Javon Hargrave, Johnny Maxey, and second year man L. T. Walton all held there own against the very good Ravens offensive line. First round pick Artie Burns continued to hold down his starters role by playing a solid game against some dangerous receivers. My vote for defensive rookie of the year goes to safety Sean Davis, and he made an even better case in this game. He’s become a constant threat at the line of scrimmage, either blitzing the quarterback or making plays in the backfield against opposing running backs. Davis made the biggest play of the game, breaking up a third down pass in the end zone in the fourth quarter. Roethlisberger had just thrown his second interception which gave the Ravens the ball deep in Steeler territory. Baltimore was already up 7, and were threatening to take a two touchdown lead in the fourth quarter. Davis got his hands in between the intended receiver and broke up a sure touchdown pass on third down, forcing the Ravens to kick a field goal. It was a huge play, and may well have saved Pittsburgh’s season.
This blend of young players and veterans may well get the Steelers far into the playoffs this year. It’s also fun to also imagine this team’s future. Next season Pittsburgh will get back missing stars like Cam Heyward, and Martavis Bryant. Add to that the maturation of all the sensational rookies they have now, and throw in a new crop of draft picks. The future is very bright in Pittsburgh, both this season, and many for many to come.