Behind a standout performance by wide receiver Qadry Ismail, the Baltimore Ravens ended years of futility at Three Rivers Stadium that dated from the franchise's days in Cleveland and took another big step in their development.
Ismail had six receptions for 258 yards--the most receiving yards by a wide receiver this season in the NFL and the 11th most in league history--and three touchdowns to help end the Ravens' three-game winless streak in Pittsburgh and lift Baltimore to a 31-24 victory over the Steelers today before 46,715 fans.
Baltimore (6-7) had been 0-3 at Three Rivers Stadium and an Art Modell-owned team had not won there since a 51-0 victory by the Cleveland Browns in 1989. A team from Baltimore had not won in Pittsburgh since the Colts' 41-7 victory in 1968.
In his postgame comments, Billick quickly adjusted the standards for this team, which started the season 2-5 but has gone 4-2 over its last six games. For the first time since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, the Ravens have a chance to reach .500 in December. Billick is also not ruling out making the playoffs.
"When I got here, all I heard was just beat Cleveland," he said. "Just split with Pittsburgh. Just split with Tennessee and Jacksonville. Just show progress. Don't even worry about the playoffs. Just get to .500. . . . But we have progressed and it's time to raise the bar just a little bit for everybody."
The Ravens, who have matched their number of wins from each of the previous two seasons, took sole possession of third place in the AFC Central behind Jacksonville and Tennessee. Pittsburgh (5-8) dropped to fourth place after losing its fifth straight game. The Steelers' 1-5 home record is their worst since since 1970.
Ismail caught touchdown passes of 54, 59 and 76 yards in the third quarter to give the Ravens a 31-17 lead after a stagnant first half. Pittsburgh narrowed that lead in the fourth quarter when Kordell Stewart caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Mike Tomczak, who replaced Stewart as the starting quarterback last week. But that was all the offense the Steelers could muster.
"It was as disappointing a performance as I've seen since I've been here," Steelers Coach Bill Cowher said. "I'll make changes if I have to make them. Something is going to have to give."
Baltimore had few other options but to throw to Ismail. Wide receivers Patrick Johnson (strained calf) and Jermaine Lewis (sore knee) were inactive for today's game, leaving the Ravens thin in the receiving corps.
Without Johnson or Lewis in the lineup, it took some time for Baltimore's offense to get on track. Running back Priest Holmes provided the unit's one highlight in the first half when he found a gap at the line of scrimmage and broke through for a 64-yard touchdown run along the right sideline. It was the second-longest run in Ravens history and their longest touchdown run.
Although Baltimore had a solid running effort the first half, its passing game was woeful. Quarterback Tony Banks completed just 3 of 17 passes before halftime, as several receivers dropped passes. His first pass completion did not come until less than a minute remained in the first quarter.
"That was about as ugly as I've played in the first half, probably in my career," Banks said.
But as poorly as Baltimore played, the Ravens came out of halftime tied at 10. Baltimore took control quickly in the third quarter when, on the fifth play of its first series, Banks found Ismail open at the Steelers 33-yard line.
As Ismail caught the ball and started running, he was hit on his side by safety Scott Shields. Although Shields gave Ismail a good pop, he did not wrap him up. Ismail, stunned momentarily, paused before taking off down the left sideline. When he reached the end zone, he collapsed and lay on the field for several minutes.
Ismail said he continued to have muscle spasms in his abdominal area throughout the remainder of the game that inhibited his breathing. However, that didn't keep him from burning the Steelers for two more touchdowns.
"It's a huge, huge win, confidence all around," Ismail said. "You're coming from the adversity of all these three-point losses. . . . Now here's an opportunity. Let's rise up to the occasion and just finish. And we were able to finish today."