PITTSBURGH — Joe Flacco and the NFL’s playoff road warriors are heading to New England with their swagger — and their pass rush — fully intact.
The rarely flustered Flacco tossed two second-half touchdowns and the Baltimore Ravens dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-17 on Saturday night in the AFC wild-card game.
Flacco hit Torrey Smith for an 11-yard score in the third quarter and found Crockett Gillmore with a 21-yard pass in the fourth one play after Terrell Suggs picked off Ben Roethlisberger. The Ravens won in Pittsburgh for the first time in the postseason.
Baltimore (11-6) sacked Roethlisberger five times and kept the NFL’s second-ranked offense off-balance. Roethlisberger passed for 334 yards, but the Steelers (11-6) settled for field goals while the Ravens kept scoring touchdowns against their AFC North rival.
Baltimore heads to top-seeded New England next Saturday.
“The big thing is we have a good team and we didn’t hurt ourselves tonight,” Flacco said. “We didn’t have a lot of possessions early. We made the most of them by getting some kind of points.
“We played a clean football game and kept at it.”
The Ravens won their third wild-card game as the sixth seed. It provided another twist in a season that began with running back Ray Rice’s suspension and eventual release following a domestic dispute with his fiancee (now his wife). When the chaos died down, the Ravens emerged galvanized.
And two years after leading the Ravens to the franchise’s second Super Bowl title — with wins at Denver and New England along the way — Flacco did what he always seems to do when the calendar flips to January.
Flacco’s seven road playoff wins are the most by a quarterback since the 1970 merger. He completed 18 of 29 passes for 259 yards and the two scores. The Ravens gained a measure of revenge after the Steelers knocked them out of the postseason in 2008 and 2010 at Heinz Field.
Yet Flacco has come of age in the interim. And while Pittsburgh’s bounce-back season included its first AFC North title in four years, the Steelers’ revamped roster could do little when it mattered.
Pittsburgh played without All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell, out with a hyperextended right knee. Fill-ins Ben Tate, Josh Harris and Dri Archer managed just 43 yards on 15 carries as the Steelers’ four-game winning streak came to an abrupt and decisive end.
Pittsburgh fell to 9-1 when facing a team for the third time in the same season, and it was not close. Baltimore’s 13-point victory was the fourth-biggest win by a road team in Steelers postseason history.
Flacco escaped pressure from James Harrison to find Smith in the back of the end zone to make it 20-9 in the third quarter. Pittsburgh drew within 20-15 on a 6-yard pass from Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant with 11:01 to go. But there would be no 2.0-version of the Steelers’ rally from 14 points down to Baltimore in the divisional round four years ago.
Justin Tucker drilled a 52-yard field goal to push the lead to 23-15 and Suggs made a juggling interception from his knees on Pittsburgh’s ensuing possession. The Ravens did not hesitate to put the Steelers away. Flacco rolled right and flipped to Gillmore. The tight end outraced two defenders to the end zone.
In the end it was Ravens coach John Harbaugh enjoying a rare celebratory moment in a place that has long been a stumbling block. No more. With his brother Jim — the newly minted head coach at Michigan — watching in a Wolverines winter jacket, the elder sibling sprinted off the turf and on to New England.
The teams split a pair of 20-point blowouts during the regular season, each winning at home. Roethlisberger peppered Baltimore’s scattershot secondary for six touchdowns in a 43-23 masterpiece on Nov. 2. Without the threat of Bell, the Ravens simply sent their front seven after Roethlisberger.
Baltimore got there with alarming frequency.
Twice the Steelers’ momentum in the first half was stopped when Roethlisberger took a sack, including one by Haloti Ngata in his return from a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance enhancing drugs policy.
The Ravens were not nearly as dynamic but considerably more efficient. Forsett churned through the Steelers for 32 yards on an 80-yard drive that ended with a 5-yard sprint to the end zone by Bernard Pierce. Tucker added a field goal and Baltimore took a 10-9 lead into the half despite getting outgained 193-123.