Ravens rout Steelers in strong opening statement BR>
BALTIMORE - Inside the Baltimore Ravens' locker room, Ray Rice dabbed at the blood seeping from a small cut on his neck.
"I'm not going to say theword physical anymore because look at the scar on my neck," Rice said with a smile. "That's part of the war wounds."
It was the revamped Ravens who inflicted the punishment, though, during a 35-7 trouncing of the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday before 71,734 at M&T Bank Stadium, exacting a measure of revenge after being kicked out of the playoffs twice in the past three years by their AFC North arch-rivals.
It also sent a strong message to the rest of the NFL.
Rice and a reworked offensive line pounded the ball down the Steelers' throats as he gained 107 yards and scored a touchdown, also catching one touchdown out of the backfield. The Ravens bullied the NFL's top-ranked run defense from a year ago, gaining 170 yards on the ground.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata regularly busted through the line of scrimmage, causing a fumble and deflecting a pass for a Ray Lewis interception to lead a relentless defense that set a franchise record by forcing seven turnovers. They intercepted Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times, including a pair by star free safety Ed Reed.
"It was domination," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who sacked Roethlisberger three times. "It was a great day for the city of Baltimore."
And quarterback Joe Flacco delivered three touchdown passes with no interceptions, outdueling Roethlisberger for his first career victory against him.
This marks the Ravens' most lopsided margin of victory over the Steelers in franchise history.
"It's a great victory, the whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back, that's not real to us," coach John Harbaugh said. "This is a new football team. This is the 2011 Baltimore Ravens. This is who we are, and now we're going to find out what this football is going to be about going forward."
After having their season abruptly halted in January by Pittsburgh when they squandered a 21-7 halftime lead by committing three turnovers, the Ravens didn't relax their grip on the Steelers' throats this time.
In the third quarter Sunday, the Ravens expanded their lead with three turnovers that transformed the two-touchdown lead into an insurmountable margin.
"Now, the playoff taste is through," Rice said. "We've got that burden off our shoulders. We're one up on them right now, and that's how we've got to approach this. It's always a slugfest with them, and lord knows what's going to happen later in the year."
Rice set the tone on the Ravens' first play from scrimmage, bolting into the secondary behind crushing blocks from new left tackle Bryant McKinnie.
McKinnie slammed his 6-foot-8, 360-pound body into outside linebacker James Harrison before peeling off downfield to wall off middle linebacker James Farrior.
"We wanted to establish the run behind Bryant McKinnie," Rice said. "Harrison went inside, I stayed on my course and I followed the big man. Once I get into the secondary, it's all on me."
Added offensive coordinator Cam Cameron: "It doesn't hurt to give a guy a chance to tee off on somebody the first play of the game."
The 36-yard run set up Flacco's perfect spiral to Anquan Boldin two plays later for a 27-yard touchdown pass.
Flacco's accuracy was pinpoint, completing 17 of 29 throws for 224 yards and a 117.6 passer rating.
"It definitely gets you going, you're ready to go right out of the gates," Flacco said. "When you go down there on the first drive the way we did, it definitely boosts your confidence even that much more to continue to do it."
Derided by Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley and other NFL players during the offseason, Flacco played like he was issuing a convincing rebuttal.
As far as Cameron is concerned, Flacco had nothing to prove despite a 2-6 record in his previous starts against the Steelers.
"Joe knows the heat comes with the territory, but he's played pretty darn good in a lot of those games," Cameron said. "Everybody hammers it and they won't let up on a guy. That's just the world we live in today, everybody picks every quarterback apart, especially when you're facing a team that he's lost to a few times.
"He's the real deal. If you think your guy is fragile and needs a psychological victory, he's probably the wrong guy. That's why most guys can't do what Joe has done, win this many games this quickly. I always knew he was made of the right stuff. Joe is pretty special."
The Ravens capitalized on a short field provided by Sugss' sack and forced fumble for their second touchdown. On that second scoring drive, Flacco hit tight end Dennis Pitta for a 29-yard pass. Three plays later, Rice scored on a one-yard touchdown behind right tackle Michael Oher's block.
"We got beat into submission," Farrior said.
Flacco connected with Rice for an 11-yard score behind linebacker Lawrence Timmons in the second quarter. Flacco wasn't exactly breaking out the champagne afterward, though.
"That was a huge win for us against Pittsburgh," Flacco said. "But without us playing great in these next 15 games, it's not going to mean anything."
Mere seconds into the second half after Ngata separated the ball from running back Rashard Mendenhall with a devastating tackle, Flacco had the Ravens up 29-7.
He found tight end Ed Dickson by himself in the end zone after he faked out star Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year. After Dickson's touchdown, punter Sam Koch ran it in for the two-point conversion on the extra point attempt.
"We got our tails whipped," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said.
"We got beat up all over the field," Polamalu said. "The truth of it is, we got our butts kicked. It's incredibly humbling, which obviously we needed at this point. It'll be interesting to see how we persevere."
Following an interception by Reed, the Ravens went up 32-7 to close out the third quarter.
Ngata was everywhere, constantly collapsing the protective pocket around Roethlisberger.
"This is definitely the game I wanted to have," said Ngata, the Ravens' $12.5 million franchise player. "I just want to keep getting better and better. I just want to keep making more and more plays."
It was nothing like their playoff loss when their epic meltdown sealed their fate.
With 20 new players, this is an entirely different outfit in Baltimore. Lewis pointed that out during a rousing halftime speech.
"Everybody was saying,‘We've been here before,' and I was like, ‘We haven't been here before, because 2011 is a whole new year,'" Lewis said. "If you understand it that way, then you understand that this is a new team."
This marked the Ravens' first regular-season outing since cutting wide receiver Derrick Mason, tight end Todd Heap and nose guard Kelly Gregg.
And this was the debut of the Ravens'
reconfigured offensive line and a secondary with three new starters in strong safety Tom Zbikowski and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Lardarius Webb.
It all seemed to mesh together better than perhaps even the Ravens had envisioned.
"This is a game we've been waiting for since last season," said Boldin, who caught four passes for 74 yards, including his touchdown catch to open the Ravens' scoring in the first quarter. "We left last season with a bitter taste in our mouths, and that was a motivation for us. You still have to give them credit. They're the AFC North champions until we dethrone them."
Ravens notebook: New-look offensive line asserts itself
Allows one sack as Ravens rush for 170 yards
BALTIMORE - Bryant McKinnie fired off the line of scrimmage, bashing Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison before rumbling downfield to pick off middle linebacker James Farrior.
The blocks paved a path for Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice to gain 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage, setting up a touchdown.
"I got my man," McKinnie said. "So, I thought, ‘Why not go block somebody else?'"
For a hefty offensive tackle that was expected to struggle with the Steelers' formidable defense, McKinnie defied expectations.
"To come in for the biggest game for them, I felt a little pressure and I feel like I play well under pressure," said McKinnie, a 6-foot-8, 360-pound former Pro Bowl left tackle signed by the Ravens in August after being cut by the Minnesota Vikings when he reported at 387 pounds. "For somebody who hasn't played in eight months, any games since January, I feel like I did a pretty good job."
And the Ravens' new-look offensive line that didn't play a single snap together during the preseason allowed only one sack during the Ravens' 35-7 victory Sunday over the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns against the NFL's top-ranked run defense from a year ago.
"The protection was fantastic, that's something against this football team that you have to be concerned with," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I know everyone in this room who follows this team had a concern with that, and I guaranteed you I had a concern with that, too. I think we did a good job of game-planning the protection.
"The main thing was the one-on-one battles, the one-on-one battles across the board that we won. The offensive line was a big part of that. That's how you win football games."
Six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk didn't play in any preseason games after having surgery on his left knee at the start of training camp.
His knee appeared to hold up against beefy Steelers nose guard Casey Hampton.
"It feels great," he said. "Every time you win, you feel a lot better than when you lose."
Michael Oher was moved back to right tackle for the first time since his rookie year.
And right offensive guard Marshal Yanda missed the majority of the preseason with back spasms.
The only starter that played at his usual spot during the preseason was left guard Ben Grubbs.
Most of the pressure was on McKinnie since he had to block Harrison, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
"I told my mom, ‘I haven't played since Jan. 2,'"McKinnie said. "I just felt like I was the weakest link, so I wanted to make sure I held down my part."
Last season, the Steelers led the NFL with 48 sacks.
Their pass rush is headlined by Harrison and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who combine for 20 ½ sacks last season.
However, Harrison was limited to nine tackles and one quarterback hit on Sunday as Woodley registered the Steelers' lone sack.
Quarterback Joe Flacco took advantage of the increased time, connecting on 17 of 29 throws for 224 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
"Those guys did a great job," Flacco said. "I've been saying all week, I'm really confident in the way these guys are going to play. It's a great group of guys. Bryant is the only guy who hasn't been there.
"I wasn't worried about that. I know Bryant is a really good left tackle. So, why worry about it anyway? I felt comfortable back there all day."
NGATA DOMINATES: Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata played like a man who's deserving of a huge contract extension, steamrolling the Steelers' offensive line for four tackles, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble with a tipped pass that led to an interception.
The Ravens remain in contract discussions with Ngata's representatives, but no deal is imminent at this time despite the exchange of proposals.
Ngata remains upbeat, though.
"It's getting closer, but I don't think about that," Ngata said. "I let my agent and the Ravens do business. I just play. Hopefully, it will get done."
Down to 330 pounds, roughly 25 pounds less than he played a year ago, Ngata's quickness and staying power were on display.
"I'm on the field a lot more," Ngata said. "I felt good this first game. I was able to stay with good stamina throughout the whole game and even ran down the field and made some tackles. .. This is definitely the game I wanted to have. Hopefully, I can get better and better throughout the year.
"I don't want to be known as just a regular ‘stop the run' guy. I just want to keep on making more plays. It's great that I'm around a lot of greatness with Ed Reed, Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs."
Added Harbaugh: "I thought it was dominant, to borrow a phrase. He was dominant. The play at the beginning of the half where he barged through there and got the hit in the backfield, it was just a huge momentum play."
GOOD START FOR DICKSON, PITTA: In the Ravens' first regular-season game since cutting former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, his replacements turned in a viable performance.
Ed Dickson led the team with five receptions, good enough for 59 yards and one touchdown.
And Dennis Pitta finished with two receptions for 45 yards.
"Me and Dennis don't listen to all that," Dickson said. "We know we have a big role to fill with everybody relying on us and we want to go out and play good. They tell us, ‘Do your job and we'll be fine.' Dennis had a really good game. He caught the ball strong, and we did a good job in the running game. We worked together. ..
"We're never going to be Todd Heap. He's a legend in our eyes, but we'll do our jobs as the new tight ends. This was a good starting point."
Dickson caught an 18-yard pass for a touchdown with Steelers safety Troy Polamalu trailing behind him.
"The catch he had in the corner of the end zone was a huge play," Harbaugh said. "They played like veterans, and that's what you want your young guys to do."
Added Flacco: "They did a great job. They went out there and played confident, and you can tell the difference in them just last year to this game. They really put a lot of pressure on the defense vertically, getting into the secondary and allowing me to hit those guys for a couple big ones."
Pitta's long reception went for 29 yards.
"We have a lot of confidence in ourselves," Pitta said. "We knew what we were capable of in our offense. Joe put us in some great situations."
HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Free safety Ed Reed intercepted two passes as he celebrated his 33rd birthday.
"Just winning was enough for me," said Reed, who led the NFL with eight interceptions last season despite missing the first six games after offseason hip surgery. "That was the best present I could have. It's just a blessing to be playing a child's game at this point of my career, my life."
Added cornerback Lardarius Webb: "He's amazing. He was my favorite player when I was in college. How you gonna get two interceptions and he's about 41 years old? He's a great man. He's always looking at film. I see hard work pays off and I'm still learning from him."
INJURY UPDATES: Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith sprained his left ankle and was getting around on crutches after the game.
Although X-rays revealed no structural damage, there is concern that he might have suffered a high-ankle sprain. That could sideline him for at least a few games.
He left the game after the opening kickoff and didn't play again.
Meanwhile, cornerback Chris Carr suffered another setback with his left hamstring problem during the first half.
QUIET DEBUT FOR EVANS: In his first regular-season game since being acquired via a trade from the Buffalo Bills, starting wide receiver Lee Evans didn't catch a pass.
He was targeted four times by Flacco.
"I think we were good, we just missed by a little bit," Evans said. "We both see the same things and communicated them. It's still a growing process.
"Nobody said it was going to be absolutely perfect by now anyways. The good thing about it is we still made plays. It's all good in a win."
Evans said his left ankle injury wasn't a factor.
"Yeah, it felt good," Evans said. "It's the same, it is what it is."
WEBB SHINES: Webb was named as a starter at the last minute ahead of Smith and led the Ravens with 11 tackles.
He also deflected two passes and shared a sack with outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.
"I didn't expect it," Webb said of starting. "They told me the night before. I don't think I had the greatest game. I got to get my hand on the ball a little more, but I tackled good."
Starting for the first time, cornerback Cary Williams had five tackles, one for a loss and a pass deflection.
"I think I played pretty good," Williams said. "It was a tough transition from being just a special teams player and having that special teams mindset into just developing into a defensive mindset. It was more difficult going into the game just trying to be physically prepared and hydrated as possible.
"Last year, I didn't have much to worry about because last year I know my role and it was as a special-teams guy. Now, I'm playing special teams and playing defense. So, there's a lot that's required. What I need to do is do better with hydration at night time and even this morning, but good thing those things didn't come into play too bad and develop bad plays or turn into bad plays for the team. Other than that, I think I played pretty well."
Williams did allow a touchdown pass to Ben Roethlisberger when he found Emmanuel Sanders after a ton of time to find his target.
"He found a hole in the defense," Williams said. "He saw it and it was a touchdown. It was a tough situation. He just found the hole and they made the play."
QUICK HITS: The Ravens scratched wide receiver Tandon Doss, cornerback Chykie Brown, outside linebacker Michael McAdoo, inside linebacker Jason Phillips (concussion), center-guard Bryan Mattison, nose guard Brandon McKinney and outside linebacker Sergio Kindle.
"It was kind of a last-minute thing," Doss said. "They needed someone to play both offense and special teams. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to do that this week. Hopefully, next week my chance will come. ... The Steelers deactivated quarterback Dennis Dixon, running back Jonathan Dwyer, cornerback Curtis Brown, linebacker Chris Carter, offensive tackle Chris Scott, offensive guard Ramon Foster and wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery. ..
. The Ravens' game captains were middle linebacker Ray Lewis, quarterback Joe Flacco and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo. ... Strong safety Bernard Pollard roughed up Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, who retaliated with a smack to the head. There was also a fight where safety Troy Polamalu threw several punches.
"Bernard Pollard did his thing on Hines," Webb said. "We knew Pollard wasn't going to take no crap. He did a great job." .
.. Reed wasn't surprised by how McKinnie played. He vouched for his former University of Miami teammate to general manager Ozzie Newsome before the team signed him to a two-year contract worth up to $7.5 million. "I knew it was going to be everything I saw in college," Reed said. "I've been knowing Bryant for a long time, and I'm not saying Minnesota made a mistake with that, but as soon as he came on the block, and I knew we needed a tackle and asked me, I told them ‘Go get him.' Without hesitation. [People] are saying ‘he's out of weight, he's out shape,' and his weight was a problem. I was like, ‘Nah man, I'll run with him if I have to,' just like I did. Bryant's a hard worker, he's a professional. After practice, he runs on his own. He gets on the treadmill and works constantly. So I knew for a fact that he was going to be an asset to this organization and a great player for our team."
BALTIMORE RAVENS' REPORT CARD
Joe Flacco was accurate, decisive and timed up his throws masterfully as he completed 17 of 29 passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 117.6 passer rating. He played like a quarterback determined to prove himself, outdueling Ben Roethlisberger for the first time in his NFL career.
Running back: A
Ray Rice darted past tacklers as he gained 107 yards on 19 carries. He scooted out of the backfield for four receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown catch. And he became the first running back to eclipse the century mark against the Steelers since Dec. 27, 2009 when he rushed for 141 yards on 30 carries. All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach bulldozed linebackers.
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin and tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta provided plenty of separation. Boldin did an excellent job of hauling in a 27-yard touchdown to get the Ravens off to an early lead. There was no visible chemistry between Flacco and Lee Evans, but he wasn't needed on this day.
Offensive line: B-plus
Joe Flacco was rarely hit and only sacked once. Newly-acquired left tackle Bryant McKinnie threw a key block on a long Ray Rice run to set up the first touchdown. His pass protection was solid as he stonewalled James Harrison, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was flagged for holding once. They opened up some big holes against a usually stout Steelers front seven. Michael Oher fared well against outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley with just one sack allowed.
All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, the Ravens' $12.5 million man, was unblockable. Ngata recovered two fumbles and forced another. Pernell McPhee forced a fumble, and Cory Redding recovered one. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked four times. Nose guard Terrence Cody had a solid game.
Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs sacked Ben Roethlisberger three times, giving him 15 ½ for his career against him for more than any other NFL player against the Steelers quarterback. Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had an interception and forced a fumble.
Free safety Ed Reed intercepted Ben Roethlisberger twice and deflected four passes. Cornerback Lardarius Webb got the start and recorded 11 tackles and split a sack. Cary Williams had five tackles and deflected a pass, allowing a touchdown when Roethlisberger had too much time to throw. Roethlisberger completed only 22 of 41 throws for 280 yards.
Special teams: C-plus
Punter Sam Koch made up for a 28-yard shank, booting a 62-yarder to finish with a 47.2 average. Billy Cundiff knocked in a pair of field goals. Lardarius Webb had a 37-yard kickoff return, but didn't shine as a punt returner. Steelers kick returner Antonio Brown averaged 34.3 yards per return and had a long of 41 yards.
Ravens, NFL recognize 9/11
BALTIMORE -- John Harbaugh felt a tug on his heart, watching the jets fly over M&T Bank Stadium with a gigantic American flag stretched across the field by the hands of first responders.
Standing next to his daughter, Alison, special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg's daughter, Margaret, and special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo, the Baltimore Ravens coach listened as taps played live on the video screen from the Flight 93 national memorial in Pennsylvania.
The Ravens and the NFL commemorated the one-decade anniversary of the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, Sunday with a series of ceremonies throughout the league.
"It was emotional," Harbaugh said following the Ravens' 35-7 victory over the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers. "When the jets flew over, is there anyone who didn't get choked up? This is a great day for America. It's also a great day for Baltimore fans and the Ravens, but we have a lot of work to do and we have a game next week."
Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs recorded three sacks.
Afterward, the Pro Bowl pass rusher reflected on the terrorist attacks
"They tried to break us down as a country, but united we stand," Suggs said. "I believe our president said it best, ‘Men will be remembered by what they build, not by what they destroy.' All I think they did was make us a stronger country, a better country."
Wide receiver Anquan Boldin got the Ravens off to a fast start with a touchdown catch minutes after the ceremony ended.
"It was a nice tribute," Boldin said. "There were a lot of people that lost their lives. I think there's a lot of people in this locker room whose lives were affected one way or another."
The Ravens did their part on the field, dominating the defending AFC champions.
Quarterback Joe Flacco outdueled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for the first time after six previous defeats, throwing three touchdown passes with no interceptions.
"There's always going to be critics," Flacco said. "Ten weeks down the road and something might happen and it's back again. Who knows? It's always a team win when you play in the NFL. No one guy has ever won an NFL game."
Running back Ray Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown, also catching four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.
Rice became the first running back to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers since he did so Dec. 27, 2009.
The Ravens return to play on the road next week against the Tennessee Titans.
"It's always a slugfest with them, and Lord knows what's going to happen later in the year," Rice said. "Right now, we're 1-0 and looking forward to Tennessee next week."
Meanwhile, a reconfigured offensive line allowed only one sack.
"We're not going to go in there and pat ourselves on the back," said center Matt Birk after his first game since having surgery on his left knee. "It's one game, and there's a long way to go."
Defensively, the Ravens set a franchise record with seven turnovers.
Roethlisberger was intercepted three times with All-Pro free safety Ed Reed picking him off twice.
It also happened to be Reed's birthday.
"Just winning was enough for me, that was the best present I could have," Reed said. "It's just a blessing to be playing a child's game at this point of my career, my life, and just to have a win and get some interceptions along the way as this defense got better. It speaks volumes for the guys."
This win also provides a touch of revenge for the Ravens who had lost six of the previous eight games to Pittsburgh, and had their season ended by the Steelers in the playoffs in two of the past three seasons.
"This is a game we've been waiting for since last season," Boldin said. "We left last season with a bitter taste in our mouths, and that was a motivation for us. This is just a start. We wanted to come out and make a statement, but we think we can only get better from here."
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