With the unfortunate news of Heinz Field donning a new name, I’d like to take a moment to look back and appreciate an unforgettable game from the stadiums beloved name-sake.
The Dawn of a new era is upon us, Steeler Fans. The retirements of future hall of famer Ben Roethlisberger and long-time General Manager Kevin Colbert were expected, but painful nonetheless. Now on top of that, Heinz Field is officially no more. While the stadium itself isn’t physically going anywhere, Steeler games will now take place at the newly renamed Acrisure Stadium for at least the next 15 years.
Heinz Field was home to countless incredible games over its 21 year tenure making it pretty difficult to choose a favorite for most fans. For myself however, one always comes to mind.
‘Twas The Night of Christmas
December 25th, 2016 feels like a lifetime ago. A Pittsburgh Steelers Offense led by the explosive “Killer B’s” (Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, and Big Ben), entered Heinz Field with a 9-5 record looking to solidify their chances at clinching a playoff berth as well as an AFC North title. Dressed in all black for the first time, they looked to lay the Ravens playoff hopes to rest. Baltimore, sitting at a record of 8-6, needed this game to stay alive in a closely contested AFC playoff race.
A 4:25pm Eastern kickoff quickly descended into the night, giving it the vibe of a prime time Sunday night match-up. The atmosphere at Heinz Field looked electric, and had the feel of a playoff game. With NBC’s Mike Tirico and Tony Dungy in the booth, the stage was set for a classic.
A Defensive First Half
Things started off a bit slow in the scoring department for both offenses, but remained entertaining throughout. After forcing a Baltimore punt, Pittsburgh hit the ground game early with Le’Veon Bell. Marching their way down the field with ease, the Steelers offense capped off their first drive with a 20-yard strike up the seam to Xavier Grimble to take the first lead of the game.
The Ravens would open up the second quarter with a fumbled snap on a field goal attempt, leaving three points on the board. Outside of a pair of Justin Tucker made field goals, the remainder of the first half would turn mostly into a defense driven punt fest. Pittsburgh would enter halftime with a narrow 7-6 lead.
After a tightly contested first half where both teams just about matched each other blow for blow, the Ravens came out of the locker room at Heinz Field having flipped a switch. Ben Roethlisberger’s nightmarish third quarter would start with a bad throw off his back foot, sailing over Tight End David Johnson’s head, and falling right into the arms of Ravens Linebacker Zach Orr. This would set Baltimore’s offense up with a short field and would result in a quick Steve Smith Sr. touchdown and two-point conversion, giving the Ravens a 14-7 lead.
A 39-yard Eli Rogers catch and run would put the Steelers back into position to retake the lead, but the drive would ultimately stall ending in just a field goal. Pittsburgh would continue to dig themselves into a deeper hole by giving up two more field goals and a second Ben Roethlisberger interception courtesy of Ravens Linebacker CJ Mosley.
The Steelers would find themselves down 20-10 to start the fourth quarter and would need to make some big plays on both sides of the ball if they wanted to punch their ticket to the playoffs and hang on to the division lead. Enter Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown.
Big Time Players Making Big Time Plays
Despite the final score being fairly high, the defense would come up huge by forcing a three and out after a second Chris Boswell kickoff went soaring out of bounds, giving the Ravens a short field and a perfect opportunity to extend their lead. Pittsburgh would rely heavily on their best playmakers down the stretch. Back to back Steeler drives would end with a Bell touchdown, set up by some nice plays from Antonio Brown and company.
Having rallied back from a ten point fourth quarter deficit, the Steelers were in a much better place with around seven minutes remaining. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense were not going down without a fight. Flacco would command a 14 play 75 yard drive killing almost six minutes off the clock, and ending it with a devastating ten yard touchdown run from Running Back Kyle Juszczyk.
I vividly remember sitting in my living room feeling absolutely devastated. Juszczyk’s run was something out of the 1960’s, running straight through Steelers Free Safety Mike Mitchell and then using his left arm to keep himself off the ground. On top of that, 1:18 was all that was left on the clock for Big Ben and the Steelers.
The Immaculate Extension
Unfortunately for the Ravens, 1:18 would be too much time for their dreaded rivals. The Steelers would go on to put together a brilliant last drive of the game containing one of the most underrated plays of the Steelers 2016 season. On second down at the Baltimore 39 yard line with just under a minute left, Roethlisberger scrambled out to the right and fired a laser to the out stretched arms of Eli Rogers.
A 20 yard gain on second down would put them in prime position to steal the game away from their division foes. What would come just a few plays later is something that has been burned into my brain, and I will never forget the overwhelming feeling of excitement that struck me like a bolt of lightning as I watched it unfold.
With just nine seconds left in the game, Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense had every Steeler fan at Heinz Field as well as those watching on TV holding their breath. Myself included. Ben takes the snap, and then guns it into the hands of Antonio Brown on a 4 yard drag route. Brown, who initially looked to be short of the goal line, somehow managed to fight through the arms of Eric Weddle and two other Baltimore defenders. “Touchdown Pittsburgh! That might win them the division!” That’s exactly what it did. Mike Tirico’s call on the play gives me chills every time.
I honestly couldn’t tell you what I got for Christmas that year, but I can tell you it most likely didn’t top one of the greatest games to ever be played at Heinz Field.
With all of the massive changes happening to the Pittsburgh Steelers this year, it is nice to take a second and embrace the past and appreciate what Heinz Field has given us. I don’t know what the future holds for the team at Acrisure Stadium, but I am extremely thrilled to find out.