PITTSBURGH — The Steelers were so close to being 4-0 without Ben Roethlisberger. Close doesn't count in the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, where every game is tight and no lead is safe.
Joe Flacco withstood Pittsburgh's late go-ahead touchdown and goal-line stand to throw an 18-yard scoring pass to T.J. Houshmandzadeh with 32 seconds left, and the Ravens won 17-14 Sunday to prevent the Steelers from going unbeaten without their suspended quarterback.
"You go and win it on the last drive, there's no better way to win," Flacco said. "There's not too many better ways to win in Pittsburgh."
A worst-case scenario for the Steelers, Roethlisberger's four-game league suspension for off-field conduct, nearly became a perfect one.
The Steelers took a 14-10 lead on Rashard Mendenhall's 7-yard run midway through the fourth quarter, and they appeared to seal it after Flacco twice threw incomplete from their 2 with slightly less than 3 minutes left.
But a holding call on a punt gave Baltimore the ball at Pittsburgh's 40 with 55 seconds left, and Flacco found Anquan Boldin on two passes for 12 yards and Houshmandzadeh for 10.
Flacco then froze the defense with a pump fake that freed Houshmandzadeh in the end zone for the winner.
"Joe just chills," Houshmandzadeh said. "Look at his face — he's always calm."
Now, instead of being two games down in the AFC North to Pittsburgh with Roethlisberger to go for the rest of the season, the Ravens are tied after winning in Heinz Field for the second time in 11 games.
"I think one of reasons why we play so hard here is we hardly win here," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said.
For the Steelers, it feels empty. Even without Roethlisberger and injured backups Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, they were seconds from being 4-0 for the first time since 1979. After a bye week, Roethlisberger returns Oct. 17 against Cleveland.
"We fought for perfection," said Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden, beaten on the winning touchdown. "We tried to get as close to that as possible."
"If we make one first down (on the final drive), the game's over," quarterback Charlie Batch said. A desperate final chance for Pittsburgh ended quickly when Batch was picked off by Ray Lewis.
Flacco (24-of-37 for 256 yards) outplayed Batch, the No. 4 quarterback who barely practiced, much less played, until beating the Bucs 38-13 last week at Raymond James Stadium.
Like any Ravens-Steelers game, it was physical, low-scoring and close, the fifth consecutive regular-season meeting decided by four points or fewer.
"We found a way to beat them at their place," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what makes it so special."