Flacco, Ravens answer questions emphatically in beating of Pittsburgh

September 11, 2011 | Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Putting blind optimism aside, there were plenty of Ravens fans bracing themselves internally for Sunday’s regular-season opener to be the latest chapter in a long series of excruciating disappointments against the Pittsburgh Steelers — even if you won’t admit to being one of them.

After all, the Ravens hadn’t beaten Pittsburgh in a game started by Ben Roethlisberger since 2006. No matter how much you think you’re “due” against a given opponent, you’ll always fight the lingering feeling of not knowing when — or if — you’ll ever snap out of it.

That is until you do it, and the Ravens erased all doubts with a 35-7 pummeling of the Steelers in which they dominated all three facets of the game.

The offensive line, composed of newcomer Bryant McKinnie and the recovering Matt Birk, dominated up front, allowing just one Pittsburgh sack and opening huge running lanes for Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, who led a 170-yard rushing attack.

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The defense forced seven turnovers and had four sacks of Roethlisberger, making him look more like a rattled rookie than the quarterback that’s taken the Steelers to three Super Bowls in his first seven seasons.

And Joe Flacco — the quarterback who faced criticism around every corner from opposing players and national pundits alike — turned in one of the finest performances of his young career, throwing for 224 yards and three touchdown passes. Finishing with a 117.6 quarterback rating, Flacco looked as comfortable running the Baltimore offense as he ever has entering his fourth season at the helm.

“He was very much in control of the game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I think he had a great understanding of their defense. He was probably a step ahead, in terms of just making the checks and getting us into the right plays the whole game. I thought he did a great job with that.”

Of course, beating the Steelers in September is far different than besting them in the postseason, but Sunday’s victory might suggest the monkey has — temporarily, at least — been taken off his back after beating Roethlisberger head-to-head for the first time in seven tries. The pressure will inevitably return when the Ravens pay a visit to Heinz Field on Nov. 6.

“I don’t feel one,” said Flacco when asked about that proverbial monkey. “You guys may have taken it off for me, so you don’t have to continue to bother me. I feel good about the win, just like I would every week.”

Ravens fans certainly do, too, with Flacco a major reason why.

Adding Sizzle to history books

Linebacker Terrell Suggs picked up exactly where he left off last year against Pittsburgh and found his way into the Ravens’ record books in the process.

After collecting 5 1/2 sacks against the Steelers in three games last season — three coming in January’s playoff defeat — Suggs matched a career high with a three-sack afternoon. The performance allowed the 28-year-old to surpass Peter Boulware (70 sacks) to become the franchise’s all-time sacks leader with 71.5.

“It means a lot, because, Pete, he was a mentor to me,” Suggs said. “To have the record is special, but I can’t accept all the credit. Haloti has been tremendous for me, all my coordinators throughout the years to Rex Ryan to Greg Mattison [and] now Chuck Pagano. They’ve been very good to me, putting me in the right places.”

The performance fittingly came against Pittsburgh, the team Suggs has dominated in recent seasons. His 13 1/2 career sacks against the Steelers in the regular season are the most he has against any opponent and the most any active player has compiled against Pittsburgh. Suggs has also sacked Roethlisberger 15 1/2 times (including the postseason), the most any defender has planted the Pittsburgh quarterback.

The linebacker also forced two fumbles, extending his franchise record to 24 forced fumbles.

“He gets blocked every different kind of way a guy can get blocked, from one game to the next, when you watch it,” Harbaugh said. “He still finds a way to make plays. Plus, he’s one of the best leaders I’ve been around. This guy is one of the hardest-working guys I’ve ever been around. He’s part of the heart and soul of our team and our defense.”

Turning (over) the tables

The Ravens forced a franchise-record seven turnovers and didn’t give away the ball once in what amounted to the most telling stat of the 35-7 thrashing. Of the seven turnovers, the Ravens picked off Roethlisberger three times and forced four fumbles.

“It was domination,” Suggs said. “You can say domination, but it was a team thing. The team got all those turnovers. It was a great day for the city of Baltimore.”

Since 2000, the Ravens own a 56-1 record when posting at least a plus-two turnover margin, making Sunday’s plus-seven mark elementary in terms of predicting the outcome. Linebacker Ray Lewis, who picked off a Roethlisberger pass that was tipped by Haloti Ngata, not only saw the stars shining for the defense but younger players emerging as well.

“You look on the defense, the veterans and your stars made the plays, but there are so many guys who came in and made plays as well,” linebacker Ray Lewis said. “I mean, it’s a great makeup we have right now.”

Rice runs away from last year

The lingering pain of a third-quarter fumble that swung the momentum in last year’s playoff loss to Pittsburgh was all the motivation Rice needed in turning in a big afternoon against the Steelers. Rice rushed for 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, only the second 100-yard rushing performance against the Steelers in their last 51 games.

The other one was Rice on Dec. 27, 2009 when he ran for 141 yards in a loss at Heinz Field.

However, Rice was more concerned with getting the victory rather than his individual success against a defense that allowed a league-low 62.8 rushing yards in 2010.

“We’ve got the burden off our shoulders,” Rice said. “We’re one up on them right now, and that’s how we’ve got to approach this. It’s always great to get that burden off your shoulders, because if they ever came in here and knocked us off, then you know what they’re up two. It’s always a slugfest with them, and Lord knows what’s going to happen later in the year.”

Odds & ends

Safety Ed Reed treated himself to a great present on his 33rd birthday by picking off two Roethlisberger passes, the 12th-dual interception game of his career. He owns the most of those among all active players, and the Ravens are now 12-0 in those contests. “Just winning was enough for me,” Reed said. “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.” … The Ravens’ 28-point margin of victory is the highest mark they’ve produced against Pittsburgh in franchise history. Baltimore’s 35 points were the most scored against the Steelers in the team’s 16-year history. … Baltimore has won 11 of its last 12 at M&T Bank Stadium and is 20-5 at home under Harbaugh. … The Ravens have now won four straight season openers while they snapped the Steelers’ streak of eight straight opening victories. … Sunday’s crowd of 71,434 marked the third largest in team history.

Injury report

Cornerback Jimmy Smith left the game in the first quarter with a sprained ankle and did not return. The X-ray was negative, and the team will reevaluate him on Monday.

Cornerback Chris Carr left in the second quarter with what was labeled a thigh injury. The veteran defensive back has battled a left hamstring injury for nearly four weeks and missed the final three preseason games.

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear from John Harbaugh, Cam Cameron, Joe Flacco, Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Ray Rice, Bryant McKinnie, and Lardarius Webb.

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