BALTIMORE — Whether it was another Haloti Ngata smackdown or a Ray Rice dive into the end zone, the new-look Baltimore Ravens authoritatively placed a stamp on this season while moving on from years of losing to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers.
The Ravens’ 35-7 rout sent a convincing statement to the city’s football fans, the AFC North and the rest of the NFL.
This isn’t the same Ravens team that failed to close out teams. This isn’t the same Ravens offense that failed to deliver big plays against the Steelers. And this definitely isn’t the same Ravens defense that was continually mastered by Roethlisberger.
In a rivalry defined as much by its close scores as its devastating hits, the Ravens spent the fourth quarter hugging on the sideline and celebrating new team marks before an elated sellout crowd of 71,434. The Ravens’ seven forced turnovers are the most in franchise history, and the 28-point margin of victory was their largest in this 34-game series.
With 20 new players on their 53-man roster, the Ravens looked stronger and faster than Pittsburgh, appearing to be a step ahead of the Super Bowl runner-up. From scoring a touchdown on the opening drive to forcing three turnovers in the third quarter, the Ravens grabbed the Steelers by the throat and never let go.
“It’s a great victory,” Ravens Coach John Harbaugh said. “The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back — that’s not real to us. This is the 2011 Baltimore Ravens. This is who we are, and now we’re going to find what this football team is going to be about going forward.”
When it comes to the Steelers, the Ravens have more demons and ghosts than most horror movies.
Remember how Joe Flacco couldn’t beat Roethlisberger? He did so for the first time in seven meetings, throwing as many touchdown passes (three) as Roethlisberger threw interceptions.
Remember how Rice couldn’t do anything against Pittsburgh last season? He gained more yards on his first carry (36) than he did in any of his three games against the Steelers last season and outgained Pittsburgh in the first half.
Remember how the Ravens let a 21-7 halftime lead slip away in the playoff loss eight months ago? Last season, the Ravens turned the ball over three times in the third quarter. This year, they forced three turnovers in the third quarter.
Ray Lewis told teammates at halftime that their history with the Steelers had no bearing on this game.
“They were saying, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Lewis said. “No, we haven’t been here before. This is a whole new year.”
This was a monumental first step for a Ravens team starting a new chapter. This was their first game since the salary-cap cuts of the franchise’s two leading receivers (Derrick Mason and Todd Heap). This was the first game of the year for the new starting offensive line. This was the first outing for the new-look secondary (safety Ed Reed was the only returning starter).
Said Rice, who finished with 149 total yards (including 107 yards rushing) and two touchdowns: “We know it’s Week One; it’s not the playoffs. But that playoff taste [from last year], now it’s over. We’ve gotten that burden off our shoulders.”
The Ravens put the game away in the opening minutes of the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Ngata leveled Pittsburgh running back Rashard Mendenhall and caused a fumble. On the Ravens’ first play after the turnover, Flacco hit tight end Ed Dickson for an 18-yard touchdown.
Ravens punter Sam Koch, who is also the holder, took the snap on the extra point and ran it in untouched for the two-point conversion, putting the Ravens ahead, 29-7.
“It isn’t going to get more physical than that,” said Suggs, who became the Ravens’ all-time sacks leader. “It was domination. It was a great day for the city of Baltimore.”