The entire Ravens football team opened the season being hit with several combinations, including a few self-inflicted shots, in losing 34-15 Sunday afternoon to the defending AFC North champions. "We didn't play Raven football," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "There's no excuse." It was Baltimore's fifth loss in a row to the Steelers (1-0) and may quiet initial glowing projections about the Ravens' playoff chances. In particular, the Ravens' pass coverage and pass rush didn't hold up. Pittsburgh quarterback Tommy Maddox calmly dissected Baltimore (0-1) with 21-of-29 accuracy for 260 yards, three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 134.3. "If you're a man about this game, if you're a businessman, you have to understand one game doesn't define a team," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Until we figure out that we're not as good as we think we are and are willing to work for it, it's going to be tough. "You're always shocked anytime you play the way we played. Too many mistakes."
Meanwhile, Boller took a lot of hits from the Steelers' intricate blitz packages, but kept getting up and attempting to make plays. He completed 22-of-43 passes for 152 yards, including a long completion of 14 yards, with the interception and a short touchdown pass in the fourth quarter to Travis Taylor. His cumulative quarterback rating was 57.5. "I hate losing," said Boller, Ravens coach Brian Billick's ninth different starting quarterback in five years. "If I need to put in the extra work I'm going to do that so it doesn't happen next week because losing is not in my agenda." Boller fumbled twice, recovered both and was sacked twice as Baltimore only converted 5-of-16 third downs. His offensive line made his transition from preseason standout to regular-season novice more difficult. The bright spot was Boller didn't seem to get flustered while he learned on the job. "He never lost focus," Billick said. "He had a good head about him. He's a pretty resilient kid and was very focused on what he needed to do."
The Ravens committed 10 penalties, including a personal foul by franchise cornerback Chris McAlister to set up the Steelers' final touchdown. Baltimore fumbled four times. Receiver Hines Ward and tight end Jay Riemersma were left wide open on third-quarter touchdown catches to extend a 13-0 halftime lead to a 27-0 advantage. Ward and 6-foot-5, 229-pound Steelers wideout Plaxico Burress combined for 15 receptions for 217 yards and two touchdowns. Cornerback Corey Fuller strained a quadriceps, forcing free safety Gary Baxter to shift over with Will Demps taking his place. Ward and Burress took advantage. "It was embarrassing as a team," Baxter said. "Our Baltimore fans deserve better than that. They got our number right now."
McAlister gave Burress a lot of cushion and seemed more combative after plays. Now, Burress has 26 receptions for 443 yards and four touchdowns in the last five meetings. "Recently, we've had some success against Baltimore," Ward said. "I hope they give us some respect and at least say we're decent." Actually, not just yet. "I don't respect either of them," Baxter said.
Boller began the parade of mistakes by throwing an interception to linebacker Kendrell Bell on his fourth NFL pass when he attempted to force the football into tight end Todd Heap. It set up the Steelers' second field goal of the first quarter. "There was a minute place that I could have put the ball and he was there," Boller said. Later, Ravens safety Ed Reed left himself vulnerable on Riemersma's 20-yard touchdown by being aggressive. Steelers coach Bill Cowher said: "He just beat him really bad." Riemersma taunted Reed afterward, rubbing in the touchdown. "I know why I got beat and it's not because I can't stick him because he's garbage," Reed said. "I will tell him that to his face. I can cover better and I will cover better."
Running back Jamal Lewis was supposed to be more of a focal point of the offense, but only carried it 15 times for 69 yards and a touchdown as the Ravens fell behind. "That was the plan, but we didn't stick with it," Lewis said. The Ravens need to regroup as they host the Cleveland Browns at M&T Bank Stadium next Sunday. Pittsburgh remains the front runner for the division title. "They are the team to beat," Billick said. "I said that before the season and I can't imagine anyone having a different perspective now. They're on top and we're all chasing them."
Aaron Wilson writes for The Carroll County Times