Roethlisberger, Steelers Clobber the Ravens

ben roethlisberger - pittsburgh steelers
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was beaten up by the Ravens last season (14 sacks), set a career high and tied a franchise record for touchdown passes Monday night -- and he needed only the first half to do so. (Gene J. Puskar - Associated Press)
By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 5 -- For all of the struggles and injuries and blown opportunities that the Baltimore Ravens had over the first eight weeks of the season, they still came to Heinz Field on Monday night with a chance to alter the course of their season. Their performance against the AFC North-leading Pittsburgh Steelers just might do that -- but it won't be for the better.

Pittsburgh thoroughly dominated the Ravens, 38-7, in front of 63,457 on a wet and messy night. It was a catastrophic performance on all fronts by the defending division champions, who could have moved into a tie atop the division with a victory. Instead, the Ravens (4-4) head into a very difficult closing stretch of eight games looking lost.

It was the Ravens' second-worst loss ever, behind only a 37-0 drubbing at Pittsburgh in 1997. On Monday, Baltimore set team records for fewest first downs (five) and fewest total yards (104).

"If you don't think it's embarrassing, you're not competitive," said quarterback Steve McNair, who was 13 of 22 for 63 yards. "Of course, national television and you get embarrassed like this? It hurts. At the same time, you've got to let it go. This is midway through the season, and we've got a long way to go. We've got to bounce back from this."

The Steelers (6-2), who were swept by the Ravens last season by a combined score of 58-7, honored their all-time team at halftime, a ceremony that led Baltimore Coach Brian Billick to somewhat jokingly say last week that it was as if the Ravens were "scheduled for their homecoming."

Billick turned out to be prescient. Baltimore was overwhelmed, and quickly; it trailed 35-7 at halftime. The Ravens committed four turnovers -- a performance that was reminiscent of their last appearance on national television, a 27-20 season-opening loss at Cincinnati in which they had six turnovers.

"Make people beat you. Don't give them games. You cannot -- this is the National Football League -- you cannot make that many mistakes in championship football and win," said linebacker Ray Lewis, as he slapped his hands together for emphasis.

Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was beaten up by the Ravens last season (14 sacks), set a career high and tied a franchise record for touchdown passes -- and he needed only the first half to do so. He left the game for about six minutes in the second half with a hip injury but returned, and was 13 of 16 for 209 yards and five touchdowns. Linebacker James Harrison had 3 1/2 sacks, forced three fumbles and intercepted a pass.

It was a surprising showing by the Ravens, who were coming off of their bye week and welcomed back some of their injured starters. McNair, who sat out the past two games with lingering groin and back injuries, started; Baltimore had its first-string offensive line together for the first time since the season opener; and defensive end Trevor Pryce was back after missing the last five games with a broken wrist.

But the Ravens were depleted in the secondary. Starting cornerbacks Chris McAlister (knee) and Samari Rolle (undisclosed illness) were inactive. That meant veteran nickelback Corey Ivy and Derrick Martin started at cornerback, and David Pittman, a third-round draft pick in 2006 who had been a game-day inactive in 20 of his first 23 games, played in nickel situations. As if to underscore the situation, the Ravens sent Ivy, Martin and Pittman out as captains for the coin toss -- with the rest of their teammates lined up behind them.

It was a nice gesture, but once the game started, Roethlisberger picked apart the patchwork secondary, throwing five touchdown passes in the first two quarters as the Steelers opened up a 35-0 lead. He zipped a 15-yard throw just past Pittman to Santonio Holmes to give Pittsburgh a 14-0 lead late in the first quarter, and then Martin -- a sixth-round pick in 2006 -- was victimized on the next three touchdowns.

Roethlisberger showed good mobility, twice wriggling out of would-be sacks before throwing touchdowns. On his first scoring pass, a 17-yarder to tight end Heath Miller, Pryce grabbed the quarterback in the backfield but, with his left wrist in a cast, couldn't hold on. On Roethlisberger's third touchdown, he stepped away from a diving Terrell Suggs.

"We got to protect them," Pryce said of the young cornerbacks. "The sack that I missed, the sacks that [Suggs] missed -- we've got to do a better job."

So does McNair, who struggled after a three-week respite. He continued his disturbing tendency of turning the ball over. On Baltimore's first offensive series, he was sacked by Harrison and lost the ball. He fumbled again in the second quarter, but running back Willis McGahee recovered it. Later he was intercepted by Harrison.

Safety Ed Reed fumbled a punt return following a huge hit by Harrison in the first quarter, and McGahee had the ball knocked away by safety Troy Polamalu. All in all, the four turnovers led to 28 Pittsburgh points -- and the Steelers didn't have to put together a drive of longer than 44 yards to score them.

The Ravens managed to avoid the shutout when McGahee scored on a 33-yard run with 1 minute 33 seconds left in the first half. Running back Musa Smith set up the touchdown with a 52-yard kickoff return.

"It's a lot of things you can be disappointed about," Lewis said. "But if you've been in this football league long enough, you know the season is too long. For me, like I tell my young guys, you mean you're going to hold your head down because of one game? . . . Football is just getting started."

Ravens Notes: Pittman and McGahee left the game with concussions and did not return. Linebacker Prescott Burgess strained a quadriceps, and returner Yamon Figurs sprained a knee.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company