But then Flacco took over, shrugging off a couple of dropped passes to take the Ravens 92 yards, a drive that culminated with a 26-yard touchdown throw to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith with eight seconds remaining. That gave the Ravens a 23-20 victory and a two-game sweep of the regular season series with the Steelers, and scrambled the AFC North and conference races.
“In my eyes, they are still the defending AFC champs,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said after the game. “They’re still the team to beat. [But] if we play Ravens football throughout, when we see them again it’ll be in our house.”
Another Steelers-Ravens meeting is far from decided. The Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals are tied for first place in the AFC North, with identical 6-2 records. They’re a half-game in front of the Steelers, who are 6-3. It is the NFL’s only division with three teams that have six wins or more.
The Bengals have been a bit of a surprise, thriving even after quarterback Carson Palmer refused to play for them this season and eventually was traded to the Oakland Raiders. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, a second-round draft pick in April, has been steady, enabling the Bengals to back off their vow that they wouldn’t trade Palmer.
The next two weekends could be telling for the Bengals, who host the Steelers next Sunday and play at Baltimore on Nov. 20.
For now, at least, the Ravens can feel like the closest thing there is to a favorite in the division, thanks to their two victories over the Steelers. They won, 35-7, on opening day and prevailed Sunday night in what was, for much of the evening, a typical defense-first renewal of perhaps the sport’s fiercest rivalry.
“If you think about it, this is the only team in the world that’s capable of playing like we play and can match us blow for blow just like they did tonight…. We got the stops when we needed the stops and our offense came through and got one for us,” Suggs said after the game.
The Ravens led, 9-6, after a field goal duel in the first half. They took a 16-6 advantage into the fourth quarter after a touchdown run by tailback Ray Rice. The Steelers grabbed the lead with a rushing touchdown by tailback Rashard Mendenhall and a signature play by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who bought time with an improvisational scramble and threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace.