BALTIMORE – The Baltimore Ravens had just beaten their bitter rivals in record-breaking fashion, and some of the players felt inclined to put some perspective on their 35-7 manhandling of the defending AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
Although their overwhelming victory Sunday provided a bit of payback for January’s playoff loss – and don’t think the Ravens did not remember that game – coach John Harbaugh and his players have turned their attention toward this season.
And Baltimore could not have possibility started it any better.
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes, Haloti Ngata led an inspired defense that forced a team-record seven turnovers, and the Ravens rolled to their most lopsided victory in a hotly contested series that began in 1996.
“The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back – that’s not real to us,” Harbaugh said. “This is the 2011 Baltimore Ravens.”
Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and scored twice for the Ravens, who bolted to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never let up. It was a rematch of a second-round playoff game in which the Steelers rallied to beat Baltimore 31-24.
That day, the Ravens let a 21-7 halftime lead evaporate with three turnovers in the third quarter. At halftime of this one, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis spoke loudly in the locker room after his teammates compared the two games.
“They were saying, ‘We’ve been here before,’” Lewis said. “No, we haven’t been here before. This is a whole new year.”
This time, the Ravens got three takeaways in the third quarter to turn a 21-7 advantage into a rout.
Revenge? Not quite. Just a chance to move on.
“That playoff taste? Now it’s over,” Rice said. “They beat us in the playoffs, all right. We got that burden off our shoulders, boom, we’re one up on them. That’s how we got to approach this.”
Ngata was the driving force Sunday, causing a fumble and deflecting a pass that produced an interception. Ed Reed also picked off two passes for the Ravens, who mercilessly harassed nemesis Ben Roethlisberger.
Roethlisberger had won seven straight starts against the Ravens, but in this one he was 22 for 41 for 280 yards and three interceptions.
“I guess they were waiting for this one,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s not the way you want to start it for us, obviously (but) I’d rather this be a Week 1 loss than a Week 13, 14, 15 loss.”
The defeat ended Pittsburgh’s eight-game winning streak in season openers. The Steelers committed six turnovers after halftime and were dominated on both sides of the field.
“We got beat into submission,” linebacker James Farrior said.
Flacco went 17 for 29 without an interception, getting the best of Roethlisberger and giving the Ravens an early advantage over their AFC North foes.
“This was a huge win for us against Pittsburgh today, but without us playing great in these next 15 games, it’s not going to mean anything,” Flacco said.
In the past 51 games, only twice has Pittsburgh allowed a runner to reach 100 yards. Rice did it both times.
Rice had more yards at halftime on rushes (89) and catches (38) than Pittsburgh did on its 26 offensive plays (113).
Before the game, both teams and the crowd of 71,434 marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 by standing silent while taps was played over the public address system.
Then a giant American flag was unfurled, covering the entire field. Players on both sidelines held the flag in place while the national anthem was sung.
The Steelers won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Ravens the chance to get the ball first. Baltimore made the most of the opportunity – and didn’t take much time doing so.
Rice ran for 36 yards on the first play, then carried for 3 yards to the 27 before Flacco lofted a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
Baltimore turned a Roethlisberger miscue into a touchdown to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter. Roethlisberger fumbled when sacked by Terrell Suggs and Ngata recovered the ball at the Pittsburgh 37.
Flacco’s 29-yard completion to tight end Dennis Pitta set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Rice.
The Steelers then got their first score of the 2011 season, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders.
Baltimore went up 21-7 with an 84-yard march in which Flacco converted three third-and-6 situations, the last with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Rice on third down.
In the third quarter, Ngata forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage by driving into Rashard Mendenhall immediately after the running back took a handoff. Ngata recovered the loose ball, and Flacco threw an 18-yard TD pass to Ed Dickson on the next play.
To add insult, Baltimore added a 2-point conversion when holder Sam Koch ran the ball in on a fake kick.
After the kickoff, Ngata tipped a Roethlisberger pass and Lewis made the interception. But the Ravens were stopped on a fourth-and-1.
An interception by Reed led to a field goal by Billy Cundiff for a 32-7 lead.