5 KEYS TO THE GAME

1. In a decisive blitzkrieg that nearly knocked out Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, thoroughly embarrassed Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward and prompted Steelers coach Bill Cowher to label it a pitiful performance from his team, the Baltimore Ravens trounced the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Tying a Ravens franchise record with nine sacks that also ties the most allowed by the Steelers in team history, including two apiece from defensive ends Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs, a deafening hit from linebacker Bart Scott and a sack and forced fumble from nickel back Corey Ivy that Adalius Thomas scooped up for a 57-yard touchdown return, the Ravens manufactured a 27-0 rout. It marks the second shutout of the season for Baltimore, which advanced to 9-2, and represents the first shutout of the Steelers by Baltimore since the Ravens' Super Bowl campaign. Afterward, Roethlisberger said the sack from Scott was the hardest he's ever been hit in his life, a wind-sucking shot that virtually eliminated the Steelers (4-7) from playoff contention and advanced the Ravens one step closer to clinching the AFC North title if they defeat the Cincinnati Bengals for the second time this season Thursday night.

2. Quarterback Steve McNair, who has thrown six touchdowns with two interceptions since coach Brian Billick took over the play-calling duties five weeks ago after firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, played another fundamentally sound, efficient game. He completed 18 of 24 passes for 140 yards, an expertly-thrown touchdown pass that hit tight end Todd Heap in stride in the corner of the end zone, for a impressive 102.8 passer rating.

3. Running back Jamal Lewis didn't have much work to do in the second half, not after plowing over Steelers safety Ryan Clark in the first half to set an intimidating tone for the Ravens. He rushed for 66 yards on 17 carries with one touchdown, a respectable average of 3.9 yards per carry.

4. Ivy, the diminutive nickel back who suffered a kidney laceration against the Denver Broncos last month that nearly ended his season and forced the Ravens' charter flight to land in Pittsburgh as a precautionary measure on the way back from Denver, intercepted a short pass. It was easily his biggest game since joining the Ravens. He also helped limit Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward to four receptions for 33 yards as he was often isolated against him in single coverage. Scott intercepted another Roethlisberger pass to push the Ravens' league-leading total to 20 interceptions.

5. The second-ranked run defense in the NFL limited the Steelers to 21 rushing yards on 11 carries, a 1.9 average per carry as Fast Willie Parker was shut down for 22 yards on 10 carries after entering the game with 893 rushing yards. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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