The Baltimore Ravens couldn’t have done a better job opening their 2011 season, dominating their archrival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 35-7, on Sept. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

The victory served as sweet revenge for the Ravens, who lost twice to the Steelers last season, including a 31-24 loss in the AFC Playoff in January. But Baltimore got payback in the season opener, setting a team record with seven forced turnovers.

Outstanding Player(s) of the Game:

Ravens’ fourth-year quarterback Joe Flacco put on one of the best performances of his career, completing 17 of 29 passes for 224 yards, three touchdowns and a 117.6 percent passer rating.

He threw a touchdown pass on the Ravens’ opening drive of both the first and second half. Most importantly, he earned his first win when squaring off against Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Flacco beat Pittsburgh twice in years past, but was 0-6 when facing a healthy Big Ben, and was finally able to get the monkey off his back.

“There’s always going to be critics,” said Flacco, when asked if his performance Sunday will silence his critics. “Turn around 10 weeks down the road, and something may happen, and . “

Fourth-year running back Ray Rice continues to emerge as one of the most talented tailbacks in the NFL, rushing for 107 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. He also caught four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown, serving as one of Flacco’s best weapons in the passing game.

On defense, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed recorded two interceptions, and dropped a potential third pick on Roethlisberger early in the first half. Reed, who turned 33 on gameday, said he couldn’t have asked for a better birthday celebration.

“Just winning was enough for me; that was the best present I could have,” Reed said. “It’s just a blessing to be playing a child’s game at this point of my career, my life, you know, and just moving forward to have a win and get some interceptions along the way as this defense got better today. It speaks volumes for the guys I’m with.”

Unsung Heroes of the Game:

Although Reed gets most of the credit for the success of the Ravens’ secondary, cornerbacks Cary Williams and Lardarious Webb also deserve praise. Williams kept the Steelers’ speedy receivers quiet for most of the game and finished with five tackles and a pass deflection. He gave up a touchdown pass to Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders, as Roethlisberger scrambled to buy two or three extra seconds for his receiver to get open. Webb finished with a team-high 11 tackles and two pass deflections.

On the offensive side of the ball, few did a better job than left tackle Bryant McKinnie. The 6-foot, 8-inch, 360-pound former Pro Bowl lineman has only been a Raven for a couple weeks, after the team signed him to a deal near the end of the preseason. McKinnie had played the last eight seasons for the Minnesota Vikings, but was released this summer because he came into training camp overweight. But he didn’t look out-of-shape on Sunday as he pushed around Steelers’ Pro Bowl pass rusher James Harrison, and didn’t give up one sack all game.

“A lot was going through my head going into this game. I hadn’t played in a game in over 8 months,” McKinnie said. “So my whole thing with everybody was just communication. We ended up communicating which helped me do my assignment and the rest took care of its self.”

Ravens second-year tight end Ed Dickson also had a stellar game, exceeding expectations as he replaced fan favorite Todd Heap at the position. Dickson led the team with 5 catches for 59 yards and a touchdown.

More Game Notes:

The Ravens set a new team record, forcing seven turnovers. Baltimore intercepted Roethlisberger three times, but also forced and recovered four fumbles in the game. Two of the fumbles were caused by Ravens’ Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, who finished the game with three sacks. Suggs is now the Ravens’ all-time leader with 71 career sacks.

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

The last time Baltimore beat Pittsburgh by such a wide margin was six seasons ago, when the Ravens sacked Roethlisberger a team-record nine times in a 27-0 win on Nov. 26, 2006. The Ravens had blown out the Steelers twice that season with a 31-7 on Dec. 24, 2006.

Next Up:

The Ravens (1-0) will face the Tennessee Titans (0-1) Sept. 18. The Titans fell to the Jacksonville Jaguars, 16-14, in their season opener Sept. 11.


Perry Green

AFRO Sports Editor