Mistake-prone Ravens no match for revenge-minded Steelers
Thanks mostly to an opportunistic defense led by LB James Harrison, the Steelers were able to exact revenge on the Ravens, writes Len Pasquarelli.
PITTSBURGH -- Like a scene out of West Side Story, the entire Baltimore Ravens roster gathered about 20 yards onto the field Monday night for the pregame coin toss, glaring at the Pittsburgh Steelers and verbally threatening the type of bodily harm for which they are famous.
"It looked," said Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who authored what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin termed a "spectacular" overall outing in Pittsburgh's dominating 38-7 win, "like they wanted to rumble."
Turned out, though, that the Ravens were more ready to stumble, bumble and fumble. Instead of audacious thugs, Baltimore was all thumbs. And the Steelers, celebrating the franchise's 75th anniversary and seeking a measure of revenge for their two embarrassing losses to the Ravens last season, by a combined 58-7 count, took full advantage.
No one more so than quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was bent, folded, spindled and mutilated by Baltimore's defense in 2006. Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times in the clubs' two divisional matchups.
The Steelers' quarterback completed 13 of 16 passes for 209 yards, with five touchdown passes, no interceptions and an efficiency rating of 158.3, a "perfect" game according to the NFL rating system. All five touchdown passes, which tied a Pittsburgh single-game mark, came in the first half, two of them to wide receiver Santonio Holmes, as Pittsburgh bolted to a 35-7 lead at intermission.
It marked the third time this season that Roethlisberger threw at least four touchdown passes in a game. And the four-year veteran, coming off the poorest season of his career, now has a career-high 20 touchdown passes in 2007, with half the season still left to play. Roethlisberger had never thrown more than 18 touchdown passes in a season but suddenly has more this year than everyone in the league except the Patriots' Tom Brady."Credit the defense, because it seemed like every time we looked up, they were knocking the ball loose and turning it over to us on the Baltimore side of the field," Roethlisberger said. "When they create opportunities like that, it's up to us to make them count, and we did that tonight. But, yeah, they definitely set us up for a lot of those points."
The victory moved Pittsburgh to 6-2 and gave the Steelers a two-game division lead with the resurgent Browns coming to town in Week 10. The Ravens, who won the division in 2006 with a 13-3 record, fell to 4-4 and looked like a team with few playoff aspirations.
In defense of the Ravens, they played without both starting cornerbacks, Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap. But there is no defense for the lack of urgency demonstrated by Baltimore, or for its sloppiness. Quarterback Steve McNair was especially dreadful. He appeared old, slow and unable to get the ball up the field.
The 13-year veteran, a former league co-MVP, completed 13 of 22 passes for an anemic 63 yards. It marked the fewest yards in NFL history for a player who had 13 or more completions. McNair, looking all of his 34 years and then some, was sacked five times, had an interception and lost a fumble.
"We just made things way too easy for them," said wide receiver Derrick Mason.
That's for sure.
Thanks to an opportunistic defense led by Harrison, who enjoyed a career performance, the Pittsburgh offense was able to repeatedly take short cuts to the end zone. The five touchdowns came on drives of just 20, 28, 36, 50 and 44 yards, and none lasted more than six snaps. In fact, each of the Steelers' first three touchdown series spanned only three plays.
Each of those three drives, and four of Pittsburgh's five touchdown marches, came after takeaways by the defense. Leading the way was Harrison, a fourth-year veteran who is in his first season as a starter, having replaced the departed Joey Porter in the lineup.
The Steelers welcomed back their all-time team, a 33-player contingent selected by a fan vote and featuring several Hall of Fame members, and Harrison played as if he wanted to be part of the elite assemblage. His coming-out party in front of a national TV audience included nine tackles, 3½ sacks, six quarterback hurries, an interception, a pass defensed, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. Just for good measure, he added a tackle on special teams.
"All I was trying to do was make plays," a reticent Harrison said.
Tomlin was far more lavish in his assessment, acknowledging that Harrison essentially starred in a personal highlight film that might have impressed even some of the Hall of Fame members in attendance.
"In this league, the [video]tape is a walking, talking breathing resume," Tomlin said, "and he definitely put it on the tape."
Clearly the more physical team after having been pummeled by Baltimore twice in 2006, the Steelers weren't about to be outhit or bullied on this night. Wide receiver Hines Ward, the Super Bowl XL most valuable player who was one of the four current Steelers players chosen for the franchise's all-time team, twice de-cleated unsuspecting Baltimore defenders.
Long noted as one of the best blocking wider receivers in the league, Ward blew up linebacker Bart Scott and safety Ed Reed. The hit on Reed, said Ward, was the harder of the two. But it was the blindside block on Scott, who last year leveled Roethlisberger with what he claimed was the hardest hit of his career, that was even sweeter.
Then again, given the bad blood that exists between the two franchises, defeating the Ravens is always a little special for Steelers veterans.
Asked if he noticed the Ravens' college-style motivational stunt for the coin toss, Ward said he had. And so had, he allowed, most of his teammates.
"It's like they were upset the league scheduled them to play us for our big anniversary game," Ward said. "Like they felt they were the visiting homecoming team or something, you know? But this had nothing to do with them. This was a night for the Steelers, for our history, and maybe for our future. We were definitely the more physical team tonight. It felt good to go out and hit some Ravens, and to have them know they were hit."
Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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