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Steelers squander shot at playoff spot with loss to Baltimore

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Ryan Mallett threw for a career-high 274 yards and a touchdown as the Baltimore Ravens stunned the Steelers 20-17, dealing Pittsburgh's playoff hopes a crippling blow.

Looking to clinch a playoff spot, the Pittsburgh Steelers traveled to Baltimore to take on the hapless Ravens Sunday afternoon.

DeAngelo Williams started off hot on the ground, breaking free for a 30-yard scamper to get the Steelers down into Baltimore territory. However, the drive stalled when a tight end screen to Heath Miller on third down fell shy and the Ravens stuffed Williams on fourth-and-1.

Signed just a few weeks ago, Ryan Mallett took over the signal caller position for the Ravens in place of Matt Schaub and Jimmy Clausen. What ensued was seven-minute, 75-yard drive that saw Mallett complete 5 of 7 passes for 47 yards and an 8-yard strike to Chris Matthews for the early 7-0 lead.

While the first drive backfired, Pittsburgh went right back to work with the run game. After a few more chunk plays by Williams, Roethlisberger and Co. found themselves on the 16-yard line.

A fantastic throw to Antonio Brown in the end zone looked to bring Pittsburgh within one, but a review ruled that Brown did not maintain possession. Instead of a 7-7 ballgame, Chris Boswell booted 34-yard field goal to make it 7-3.

Mallett continued to play well, making key completions on the ensuing 11-play, 64-yard drive, which ended with a 37-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to make it 10-3.

After trading punts, Roethlisberger made a crucial error by throwing a pick to Daryl Smith at the Baltimore 44, which marked the fifth interception for the Ravens this year, an NFL low. The Steelers defense managed to hold once again, though, as it forced Tucker into a 50-yard field goal attempt to make it 13-3 with just over a minute remaining in the half.

The half ended scoreless, and the Steelers looked to reorganize to begin the second half. With Baltimore getting the first possession, the defense buckled down and forced a three-and-out, the first of the game, to get the ball back quickly.

The Ravens only helped the cause with two huge pass interference calls for a combined 53 yards, with one moving the Steelers all the way down to the 1. Williams punched it in the following play to cut the deficit to three.

Throughout most of the second half, the game proved to be reminiscent of past iterations of this rivalry: a defensive slugfest.

After trading possessions back and forth, the Ravens once again capitalized off a Roethlisberger mistake. Jimmy Smith picked off another errant pass, and Mallett proceeded to make throws to Chris Givens for 39 yards and Kyle Juszczyk for 34 yards to put the Ravens at the 3. Two plays later, Buck Allen took the handoff to make it 20-10 with less than 11 minutes left.

Roethlisberger shook the interception off, however, by leading the Steelers on an eight-play, 80-yard drive. Highlighted by key grabs from Heath Miller and Williams and another pass interference penalty that placed the team at the 1, the drive was almost thwarted by a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown by Smith.

It was nullified, however, by an offside penalty. Pittsburgh didn’t waste the second chance as Williams ran it in for his second score to get back within three with just more than six minutes remaining. The defense once again mustered a stop, but Baltimore managed to milk nearly four minutes off the clock in the process.

Needing one more big drive, the offense instead stalled by failing to cross midfield. A sack put the team in a hole, and short gain and two incomplete passes spelled the end. Baltimore took over on downs and ran the clock down to four seconds. One failed hook-and-ladder play later, and the game ended, 20-17.

The loss is a crippling one for the Steelers, as it drops them to 9-6 and places their playoff hopes into the hands of three other teams.

The Steelers must beat the Cleveland Browns on the road to have any shot of getting into the postseason. If the Steelers win, there are two other roads to the playoffs:

1) If the Buffalo Bills defeat the New York Jets next week, and Pittsburgh wins in Cleveland, the Steelers are in.

2) If Denver loses their final two games -- to Cincinnati Monday night at to San Diego next week -- and the Steelers beat the Browns, the Steelers are in.

Otherwise, the Steelers will miss the postseason for the third time in the last four seasons.

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