In validating their preseason billing as title contenders, the Ravens followed a familiar script: a swarming defense and a staggering running attack.
What they could have done without was the theatrics.
Pittsburgh Steelers before 69,859 at M&T Bank Stadium yesterday was cluttered with embarrassing penalties and painful injuries.
Moments after recording their largest margin of victory in this fierce AFC North rivalry, the Ravens (1-1) could only scratch their heads. That is, the ones who waited until the final whistle before ripping off their helmets.
"You can definitely see better from us," Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We're so close."
The Ravens' running game was relentless in racking up 172 yards, including two touchdowns from Jamal Lewis and a career-high 76 yards from backup Chester Taylor. Their defense was defiant in harassing Pittsburgh's quarterbacks, forcing three critical turnovers and keeping the Steelers pinned in their territory for all but one possession through the first three quarters.
This potential statement game appeared to end with an exclamation point - cornerback Chris McAlister's 51-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the home-opening win with 2:56 left to play - but was marred by several question marks.
The Ravens showed a distressing lack of composure in getting flagged 10 times for 123 yards. Equally disturbing were the injuries to tight end Todd Heap and defensive back Deion Sanders, both of whom were sidelined the entire second half.
Sanders is day-to-day with a hamstring strain, and Heap will be "at the very least questionable" for Sunday's game at Cincinnati, a team official said. Heap, the team's leading receiver the past two seasons, could miss a couple of games with an ankle injury.
"It hurts a lot. Todd is my go-to guy," said quarterback Kyle Boller, who threw for 98 yards on 10-for-18 passing and ran for 34 yards. "Hopefully he'll be back very soon."
What won't be forgotten anytime soon was how Heap was treated after spraining his right ankle.
In obvious pain and favoring his injured leg, Heap still lined up so the Ravens could spike the ball to stop the clock near the end of the first half, only to be shoved to the ground by Pittsburgh linebacker Joey Porter. Heap was helped by trainers back to the locker room, where X-rays were negative.
"That's Porter," Jamal Lewis said. "He's a cheap guy. Would you expect anything different from him? That's low, but we'll see him again."
The Ravens inflicted just as much damage to themselves in rolling out to a 20-0 lead early in the third quarter, a margin that could have been more severe.
Kevin Johnson's illegal motion penalty negated a 39-yard touchdown off a flea flicker. Sanders' flag for pulling off his helmet offset his exciting 23-yard punt return. And Ray Lewis' unnecessary roughness penalty helped Pittsburgh's final touchdown drive.
In total, the Ravens were called for six major infractions (15 yards or more), from Sanders and Ed Reed taking off their helmets to offensive line coach Jim Colletto tripping an official on the sideline.
Ravens coach Brian Billick offered some sobering words for a team that went from a humiliating season-opening loss in Cleveland to a four-way tie for first place in the AFC North with the Steelers, Browns and Bengals.
"We have a big challenge to find some personal discipline," Billick said. "That's going to be a real focus for us because we've done some dumb things."
The Ravens set the tone early, rushing 89 yards on an opening drive punctuated by Jamal Lewis' 3-yard run.
Ravens 30, Steelers 13
Game 2: Ravens take leap forward
Team's defense, ground game rise to shackle Steelers after opening loss; Injuries, 'dumb' penalties mar Ravens' revival
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