"We do what we always do. We just did a little bit more of it," defensive end Terrell Suggs said.

The most brutal hit was delivered in the second quarter by linebacker Bart Scott, who came untouched from the left side to nail Roethlisberger in the chest and drive him into the turf. Roethlisberger, who was involved in a serious motorcycle accident in the offseason, laid on his back for several minutes before walking off the field on his own.

"That's probably the hardest I've ever been hit in my life," said Roethlisberger, who was 21-for-41 for 214 yards and two interceptions. "I just kind of remember my head hitting the ground. I couldn't really breathe very well."

Suggs remembers he stopped covering his man when Scott delivered the blow.

"I was 30 yards downfield and I heard it," he said.

The Ravens smothered the Steelers, holding them to 37 yards and three first downs on the first seven possessions.

When Pittsburgh finally crossed into Ravens' territory on its eighth series, nickel back Corey Ivy came from the blind side and swatted Roethlisberger's throwing arm to force a fumble. Linebacker Adalius Thomas picked up the loose ball and ran 57 yards for the touchdown despite struggling with an ankle injury.

Thomas' score was the defense's fifth touchdown this season and extended the Ravens' advantage to 24-0 in the third quarter.

"We always say when we get a turnover, that's the beginning of the play," Thomas said. "We don't just look to get a turnover but a score."

The Steelers only reached the red zone once and could only come as close as the Ravens' 10-yard line. That drive appropriately ended with Suggs sacking Roethlisberger.

"We just had to keep our foot on their throat as long as we could," Suggs said. "You've got a rivalry game and they don't score. You're not only sending a message for the next time you play them; you're sending a message to the next team you play."

That next team is the Bengals, who are coming off a shutout of their own (a 30-0 win in Cleveland).

Holding a three-game lead over Cincinnati with five weeks remaining, the Ravens can clinch the AFC North title with a win Thursday and become the first team to secure a playoff spot. More than any other game this season, this one will test the Ravens' focus and endurance.

"I think the plane for Cincinnati leaves in five hours," said coach Brian Billick, joking about the quick turnaround. "It's going to be quite a challenge for us, but these guys are up to it."
Killing the clock
For the fourth time in their five-game winning streak, the Ravens dominated the time of possession.

Opponent, Time of poss.

Saints - Ravens, 36:46 to 23:14

Bengals - Ravens, 37:24 to 22:36

Titans - Titans, 30:44 to 29:16

Falcons - Ravens, 36:43 to 23:17

Steelers - Ravens, 34:46 to 25:14

Total - Ravens, 176:23 to 123:37

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com