Neither Mike Tomlin nor the Pittsburgh Steelers could stand in the way of the Baltimore Ravens' late-season playoff push.
The defending Super Bowl champions are back at .500 and in position to reach the post-season for a sixth consecutive year after overcoming Tomlin's sideline stroll and Pittsburgh's frantic comeback bid in a 22-20 victory on Thanksgiving night.
Baltimore (6-6) has won two straight for the time since September and, at least until Sunday, owns the lead for the final AFC wild-card spot. Now the Ravens get an extra few days of rest, their reward for putting forth a solid effort Thursday and remaining relevant in the playoff hunt.
"Obviously, if we would have lost we would have been out of it and playing a bunch of meaningless games," said Torrey Smith, who had five catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. "But now it's just like the playoffs. We win and we continue to give ourselves a chance."
Had Pittsburgh completed its comeback from a 13-point deficit and won the game, there would have been much more furor on their part regarding Tomlin's sideline antics. The Steelers coach was watching Jacoby Jones return a kick on the stadium screen when he realized the action was coming his way. Tomlin sidestepped the charging Jones, who swerved to his right to avoid a potential collision.
Jones' jaunt ended soon thereafter at the Pittsburgh 27, but the controversy continued long after the game.
"I promise you, I'm looking at him the whole time," Jones said. "I'm like, 'Does he know he's on the field?' I'm running, I'm looking at him, and as I get close I'm like, 'Is he going to move?'
"I just weaved to get out of the way. It broke my stride a little bit, [but] I still shouldn't have got caught. If I was him, I'd do the same thing."
During the closing seconds of the Super Bowl, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco suggested someone from the sideline make a tackle if it appeared the 49ers were going to go the distance. With a smirk, Flacco brought that up in the aftermath of Thursday's game.
"I took some flak for joking around in the Super Bowl and saying that maybe you should run onto the field and tackle somebody if this guy breaks it. That's exactly what [Tomlin] just did," Flacco said. "He was looking at the big screen the whole entire time. He knew where he was, and he knew where Jacoby was. He pulled my move. He did what I thought we should do."
Tomlin insisted it was an accident, and in the end it didn't matter. The Ravens won and created some separation between themselves and the Steelers, who would have all but eliminated Baltimore with a victory for a sweep of the season series.
"It's pretty much the playoffs now," guard Marshal Yanda said. "We have to keep grinding and keep fighting. We took a step in the right direction today."
The path ahead is not easy. The Ravens next host Minnesota on Dec. 8, travel to Detroit, host New England and close at Cincinnati. Baltimore is 5-1 at home and 1-5 on the road, so the goal is to maintain its edge at M&T Stadium and strive to play better in away games.
This late in the season, there's still room for improvement. In spite of a lacklustre running game, the Ravens are still moving the football. Problem is, they're settling for field goals instead of scoring touchdowns. Justin Tucker has kicked nine field goals during Baltimore's two-game run, and Flacco has produced only two touchdowns.
"I'm honestly pretty happy with how we played and how we performed," Flacco said. "We've just got to get better at those little things that are going to get us over the edge."