As soon as quarterback Joe Flacco walked off the field after last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he started thinking about the Thursday night matchup with the Steelers.
The Ravens couldn't afford to start the season 0-2, especially with both games coming against AFC North opponentsat home. The team entered the week with a "sense of urgency" Flacco said, and that was evident in the commanding 26-6 primetime victory over their fiercest rival.
"It was huge," Flacco said. "Anytime you start off with a couple division games and you lose the first one, it's nice to be able to play so quickly and get that win. It's huge for our confidence going forward."
The victory improved the Ravens to 1-1 on the season, and kept them from falling behind in the division race early in the season.
"Just a great victory and a tremendous rivalry against a very good football team that also played their hearts out," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
Not only did the Ravens come away with the victory, but they controlled the game thanks to a dominant and opportunistic defense, and an efficient offense.
As veteran Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor put it, "That was a good old-ashioned [butt] whupping."
The 20-point victory was just the third time in the last 13 games that a Ravens-Steelers matchup has been decided by more than four points.
"It's a big win," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We got off on the wrong foot last week against another division rival. This game was important for us. You can't start 0-2 in the division. We knew this was a must-win game for us and we came out and played that way tonight."
The Ravens played after a three-day stretch that was one of the most tumultuous in franchise history. Players, coaches and front office executives spent most of the week publicly discussing former Ravens running back Ray Rice, and a big question heading into Thursday's game was whether they would be focused enough beat their fiercest rival.
The Ravens answered that question early. The defense forced a fumble on the game's opening drive and the offense capitalized on the miscue.
Flacco couldn't have started the game any better, as he marched the offense down the field on the opening series for an 11-play, 56-yard touchdown drive capped off by a tight end Owen Daniels' touchdown. The offense followed that up on the next series with a 12-play drive ending in a 30-yard field goal by Justin Tucker to go up 10-0. Tucker had a typical solid day, drilling four field goals.
"That was a big opening drive," Flacco said. "Starting so fast was kind of big today because it was off to a pretty good drive [by the Steelers], and it showed that we were ready and responded well."
Flacco was effective throughout the night, as the offense had a much better showing in its second outing under new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. There was balance between the run and pass – Flacco threw the ball 29 times compared to 36 runs – and the Ravens were able to keep Pittsburgh off-guard.
Flacco finished the day 21-of-29 passing for 166 yards and two touchdowns, for a quarterback rating of 109.3.
As Flacco orchestrated the offense, he had plenty of reliable targets around him, complemented by a successful ground game. Daniels caught a pair of 2-yard touchdown passes and wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. led the Ravens with six catches for 71 yards. Running back Bernard Pierce also racked up 96 rushing yards on 22 carries.
"That was a kind of signature Kubiak game plan," Daniels said. "I think we executed it pretty well."
The offense impressed, and the defense played lights out. The unit forced three turnovers – two fumbles and an interception – and held Pittsburgh to 301 total yards.
The defensive performance was particularly impressive considering the hobbled secondary had to hold up againstquarterback Ben Roethlisberger and Pro Bowl receiver Antonio Brown. Cornerback Lardarius Webb was inactive with a back injury and starter Asa Jackson went down with a concussion in the second quarter. Jackson's injury left Baltimore with just two healthy corners[Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown], but they were still able to limit the Steelers.
"We played good fundamental defense," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We didn't give up big plays and we didn't give up a touchdown. Anytime you don't give up a touchdown, you are going to be pretty hard to beat."
After playing on a short week, the Ravens now get some time to recover before another division matchup next week. The Ravens will go on the road for the first time this season when they take on the Cleveland Browns.
"We'll take it," Suggs said. "We're going to look at the film tomorrow. We have a couple days off to get our bodies back healthy and get ready for Cleveland."