It doesn't get much better than this for Ravens

September 11, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Go ahead and tell me how the Ravens could have scripted this one any better.

Tell me how you improve on Ravens 35, Steelers 7 in the season opener Sunday before a pumped-up Sept. 11 crowd at M&T Bank Stadium and a huge national TV audience.

Oh, did the Ravens get the Steelers monkey off their backs with this one. Only in this case, the monkey was the size of King Kong, given Pittsburgh's recent dominance in the series and that 31-24 come-from-behind beatdown of the Ravens last January in the divisional round playoff at Heinz Field.

"We got whipped in every facet of the game," said Steelers safety Ryan Clark. "They were the more physical team, the more aggressive team. They were the team more technically sound. They were the better football team."

Yes, the Ravens were definitely that on a humid afternoon in which their emotions whipsawed between the somberness of the pre-game Sept. 11 ceremonies and the need to get fired up to play their arch-rivals.

Remember all the concerns about the Ravens' offensive line?

Remember all the talk about center Matt Birk's knee having all the consistency of linguini? And Michael Oher moving back to right tackle because he couldn't cut it on the Blind Side?

And the new guy, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, weighing more than an entire buffet line and being too out of shape to play effectively?

Forget about all that. Joe Flacco could have played this one in a lawn chair for all the pressure the Steelers put on him.

"I was untouched all day," said the Ravens quarterback.

Well, that's not quite true. Actually he was sacked once and slammed to the turf by the Steelers' James Harrison, leading you to wonder if the hit didn't rattle Flacco's brain a little.

"Well, it felt like I was untouched," he said a moment later. And given so much time to throw, Flacco was sensational, completing 17-of-24 passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 117.6.

"Those guys," he said of his offensive line, "did a great job. I've been saying all week, I'm really confident in the way these guys are going to play."

Well, OK. But he might have been one of the only Ravens who weren't at least privately worried about how the O-line would jell.

After all, Birk, the Harvard guy, spent the past couple of weeks fretting publicly — and with great eloquence — about whether his knee would hold up for an entire season. Ben Grubbs, the starting left guard, had a thigh injury late last week that was severe enough for him to miss practice.

And McKinnie weighed 387 pounds when the Minnesota Vikings cut him two weeks ago and is still carrying around a gut the size of a Navajo burial mound.

Nevertheless, said coach John Harbaugh: "The protection was fantastic … I know everyone in this room who follows this team had a concern with that. And I guarantee you I had a concern with that, too. But I think we did a good job of game-planning the protection."

Oh, did they ever. The O-line wasn't too shabby at opening huge holes for the running game, either, as Ray Rice rushed for 107 yards on 19 carrries and Ricky Williams banged for another 63 yards on 12 carries.

Here's the bottom line: this was the worst beating the Ravens have ever laid on the Steelers and their terrific quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger.

They forced a franchise-record seven turnovers (three interceptions and four fumbles.) Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was an absolute monster against the Steelers with three sacks of Big Ben and two forced fumbles.

With 71.5 sacks, Suggs is now the Ravens' all-time leader in that category. And he's become Roethlisberger's personal nightmare, too, having sacked him 15.5 times, the most of any other NFL defender.

Again, what a way to start the season for a team that's been so haunted by the Steelers in recent years.

During his post-game remarks, Harbaugh was asked if this was the most satisfying victory he's ever had, and immediately he lapsed into NFL coach-speak, reluctant to say anything that might fire up the Steelers when the Ravens play them again in November.

"I hate that word, satisfying," he said. "It's a great victory. The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back — that's not real to us. It's a football game. Every game is a new game."

True. But some wins are sweeter than others. Don't tell me a win over the Steelers is just another win.

I saw Harbaugh's face when this one was over. I saw Joe Flacco's face, and Haloti Ngata's, too.

For a season-opener, this win was as special as they come.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show."

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