Some of the NFL's biggest stars have been signing contract extensions, including Pittsburgh's Troy Polamalu and Minnesota's Adrian Peterson. Around Baltimore, fans were wondering if Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was next.
Stop worrying. The negotiations are moving in the right direction.
"It's getting closer," said Ngata after the Ravens humiliated Pittsburgh, 35-7, in the season opener. "We're just a few dollars apart."
The Ravens need to get Ngata's contract done soon because if he has another game like Sunday, the price will go up. Ngata finished with four tackles, but he also tipped two passes, forced a fumble and recovered another. In just about every big play the Ravens had on defense, Ngata played a part whether it was harassing the quarterback or crushing a runner in the backfield.
There were times when Ngata was hustling 15 to 20 yards downfield to make tackles. The play that epitomized Ngata's effort came late in the first quarter when he took on both the guard and tackle, and allowed outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to loop inside to sack Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Of the seven turnovers the Ravens collected, Ngata was directly involved in three.
"I thought it was dominant, to borrow a phrase," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh.
Ngata was named the team's franchise player before the lockout began. Team officials have been negotiating with him since the end of last season. Ngata came into training camp about 20 to 25 pounds lighter, at 330, but he has become one of the most complete defensive tackles in the game during the past two seasons.
The Ravens might as well open the vault and give him the key to the city.
"Those negotiations are between my agent and the team," said Ngata laughing.
Everyone, including running back Ray Rice, was concerned about the chemistry of the offensive line because the group didn't take a snap together in a preseason game.
But tackles Bryant McKinnie and Michael Oher, guards Ben Grubbs and Marshal Yanda and center Matt Birk so dominated the Steelers that it was embarrassing. McKinnie slapped around Pittsburgh All-World outside linebacker James Harrision, at times knocking him silly with one big paw.
By the end of the third quarter, Grubbs and Co. were driving the Steelers into the ground, which is what prompted the fight between the two teams. Pittsburgh had only one sack and if you can control Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, you'll beat the Steelers.
Did Woodley play?
"The day we got McKinnie and practiced for the first time, it all game together," said Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "Michael Oher is a very good left tackle, but he just seems more comfortable on the right. We knew McKinnie was going to be good and we have a lot of veterans on this group, guys with four or more years of experience. I think there are a lot of good things still left to come."
Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu said: "We got beat up all over the field today, most of the game, against our rivals. The truth of it is, we got our butts kicked."
Cameron Under Fire
Besides running behind McKinnie and Grubbs, Cameron did a nice job of getting Rice and young tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson isolated on Pittsburgh linebackers, especially on crossing routes or out in the flats.
Dickson and Rice each had five catches and Rice also ran for 107 yards. Those 100 yard performances are almost unheard of against the Steelers. Pitta had two catches for 45 yards.
Signs of the times
I've been waiting almost four years for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco to consistently throw over the middle without fear. Then, and only then, would we know that Cameron had turned him loose.
Flacco threw over the middle quite a bit Sunday against Pittsburgh's Cover 2, and that 34-yard pass to Dickson down the seam in the first period, which was nullified because of a McKinnie holding penalty, was Peyton-Manning like. The 18-yard touchdown pass to Dickson in the third quarter was a beauty, too.
According to Cameron, Flacco also played a major part in adjusting the running game and setting the protections.
Pittsburgh receiver Hines Ward got into an altercation with Ravens safety Bernard Pollard in the second quarter, and took a swing at Pollard before running away and going back to the huddle.
What a sissy.
In that situation, my money goes on Pollard. He'd TKO Ward in about two minutes.
By the way, if you get a chance, check out Jarret Johnson taking out Ward in the second half. It will give you goose bumps.
Ball skills needed
Anquan Boldin caught the game's first touchdown pass in the first quarter as he hauled in a 27-yard pass from Flacco. Pittsburgh cornerback Bryant McFadden was in great position to make an interception, but he seemed to lose the ball.
It was perhaps the strangest play of the game.