OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens are riding a three-game winning streak and getting significant contributions from some unlikely heroes.
Reserve cornerback Corey Graham helped the Ravens hold off Pittsburgh 13-10 on Sunday night.
Filling in for the injured Jimmy Smith, Graham had an interception and knocked a pass away in the end zone in the third quarter to help hold the Steelers to a field goal. Backup safety James Ihedigbo tallied a crucial sack that forced a punt in the fourth quarter.
Receiver Jacoby Jones, a free agent signing this offseason like Graham and Ihedigbo, returned a punt 63 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter. It was Jones’ third return for a TD this season, having also run back two kickoffs for scores.
The Ravens (8-2) have received a great deal of help since returning to the football field after their Week 8 bye, which came one week after they were blown out by Houston 43-13. Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, who went undrafted in 2009, is now leading the Ravens in tackles with 75. In the preseason, there were questions whether Ellerbe would even make the roster.
“The thing I’m most proud about is how hard they played, how physical they were, and how they kept stepping up in a close game,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “It was a classic Pittsburgh game.”
The win gave Baltimore a two-game cushion in the AFC North. Pittsburgh, now at 6-4 for the year, will have a chance at lessening Baltimore’s lead in two weeks as both teams will meet again in Baltimore.
But the Ravens are in control of the division, having beaten each AFC North opponent thus far.
“I’m happy right now, 8-2, can’t complain,” Jones said.
The Ravens have looked superb at home this season, averaging 36.8 points per game when they play in front of their home fans. On the road, it’s been a different story. The Ravens offense has only scored an average of 16.6 points each outing, making it much more difficult to come away with victories.
But that’s what the Ravens have done in three of their five road trips. Baltimore squeaked by the Chiefs 9-6 in Kansas City. The Ravens needed a late score to put Cleveland away 25-15 three weeks ago.
And then on Monday night, Baltimore needed a late stop to walk out of Pittsburgh with a win. There have been plenty of ugly outings on the road for this Baltimore group, though the two recent road wins against divisional opponents have only added to Baltimore’s stranglehold on the AFC North.
“We can get so much better,” Harbaugh said. “The thing I love about this team is this team understands that. This team is ready to go to work. We’re talking about tomorrow and how we’re going to get better this week.”
For role players like Ihedigbo, who came untouched on a third down to sack Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich late in the ballgame, being able to contribute a bigger role on defense in recent weeks has been fulfilling.
“That’s what I’m here for, whatever I can do to make an impact,” Ihedigbo said. “I’m glad I did and helped our team.”
Meanwhile, Harbaugh said Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta was not experiencing concussion-like symptoms following Baltimore’s win over Pittsburgh. Pitta sustained a concussion in the first quarter of the game after catching a five yard pass. Pitta exited the game for further evaluation and did not return. He’ll have to pass mandatory testing before being cleared to play.
Harbaugh also said it is possible that starting defensive end Pernell McPhee plays against San Diego next week. McPhee was held out of the Pittsburgh game with knee and thigh injuries.
“He’s a good guy and he’s working hard,” Harbaugh said. “There was no setback and he’s on schedule — very soon. This week is a possibility. Last week, in all fairness, was not a possibility.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)