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PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens spent the better part of four months shadowboxing the Pittsburgh Steelers for control of the AFC North.
One stop away from seizing control of the division perhaps for good, the Ravens instead gave Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown a little too much room to do what he does as well as anyone in the NFL: creating space where none seems to exist.
Brown squirted between three Baltimore defenders at the goal line and stretched the ball into the end zone with 9 seconds left, giving the Steelers a 31-27 victory and ending any hope of the Ravens reaching the postseason for the second time in three years.
The Ravens (8-7) reclaimed the lead during a frantic fourth quarter on Kyle Juszczyk's churning 10-yard touchdown with 1:18 to play. Ben Roethlisberger calmly took Pittsburgh 75 yards in 10 plays, the final one shifting the balance of power in one of the league's best rivalries firmly back to Pittsburgh.
Baltimore coach John Harbaugh called a timeout before the play, wanting to make sure the defensive call was right. It was, but Eric Weddle, C.J. Mosley and Jerraud Powers couldn't keep Brown's left arm from shaking loose and extending the ball over the goal line.
"It's just a bang-bang play," Weddle said. "They made the play, we didn't. Hopefully guys can look at this moment and know how close we are and just drive them in the offseason to come back and get better individually."
The offseason seemed far off early in the fourth quarter after Mosley's interception set up Justin Tucker's fourth field goal to give the Ravens a 20-10 lead. Yet the same defense that bottled up the Steelers for the better part of three quarters suddenly found itself reeling.
Each of Pittsburgh's final three drives ended in touchdowns as the Steelers rolled up 240 yards over the final 15 minutes after managing just 201 over the first 45.
"We didn't want (Roethlisberger) to have a good game," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We didn't want (Brown) and (Le'Veon Bell) to kind of put their imprint on the game, or their stamp on the game, and they did that. They're a good team. They're well deserving. They won the division, we'll applaud them, but we'll be back."
It appeared the Ravens already were during a season that saw them start 3-0, then drop four straight only to win five out of seven. That included a one-sided 21-14 victory over Pittsburgh on Nov. 6. They narrowly avoided an upset against Philadelphia last week when the Eagles couldn't convert a 2-point conversion in the final seconds.
Not that it seemed to matter as Baltimore spent the better part of three quarters playing keep away from the Steelers. The Ravens relied on a pair of picks and a steady running game that chewed up 122 yards and plenty of clock. Yet when Pittsburgh went to its no-huddle, whatever swagger the Ravens had disappeared.
"You have to come up with interceptions against (Roethlisberger)," Harbaugh said. "We came up with interceptions early. That's what you need to do. We were unable to do that in the fourth quarter. That was the difference in the game."
And ultimately, the season. The Ravens will finish up in a meaningless finale next week in Cincinnati, the third time in four years they'll watch the playoffs go on without them after reaching the postseason in each of Harbaugh's first five years as coach.
"We are very close to being a very good football team," Harbaugh said. "We can be a great football team, but we're not there yet."
Joe Flacco threw for 262 yards, but the last pass of any importance in 2016 came down in the hands of Pittsburgh linebacker Ryan Shazier near midfield as the clock expired.
"They have beat us in some big games," Suggs said. "They beat us in the AFC championship and beat us in the playoffs. But to knock us off to go to the next round, I don't think that ever happened. But I'm going to live with it."
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