A fear of a letdown spurred a typical smackdown by the Ravens.
Ray Rice ran for 133 yards and two touchdowns as the Ravens bullied the Denver Broncos yet again in a 31-17 win before an announced of 71,246 at M&T Bank Stadium.
All week, the players drilled it into their heads about bringing the same intensity they showed in their last-minute win at Pittsburgh. On a sun-splashed fall day, the Ravens drilled the Broncos early and often, hammering out a 17-0 lead before Denver even crossed midfield.
The Ravens gashed Denver for 233 rushing yards (10th most in team history) and shoved their way into the end zone three times on 1-yard runs. They knocked out the Broncos' kickoff returner with a tag-team hit, forcing a pivotal second-quarter turnover. And the Ravens' secondary didn't beat up the NFL's top-ranked passing attack, but they beat Denver's receivers to the spot on most routes.
In what has become a gruesome tradition, the Ravens ran their record to 5-0 against the Broncos in Baltimore, beating them by double digits each time.
But this manhandling of Denver might say more about the Ravens' future than their history.
"When you have to play against the Pittsburgh Steelers, our ultimate rival, and have to bounce back and play, there's a fear of a letdown," said Rice, who produced the fifth-highest rushing total of his career. "We're growing with experiences that we're facing right now, and it's going to carry us through the rest of the season. I'd like to say we're a team that's destined, and we're going to control our own destiny."
The Ravens certainly have control of the AFC North. Their third straight victory improved their record to 4-1, their best in three seasons under coach John Harbaugh.
The first-place Ravens moved a half game ahead of the Pittsburgh Steelers (who had a bye) and two games in front of the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals (who lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers).
"It was an important win for us to get where we're going as a football team," Harbaugh said. "This is a game we really had to win at home, against an AFC team."
That sense of urgency was evident in the first 20 1/2 minutes of the game, when the Ravens rolled out to a 17-0 advantage.
Where the touchdowns came from, though, couldn't have been predicted.
Joe Flacco's 1-yard touchdown -- the fourth by rushing in his career and first in 24 games (including playoffs) -- capped a nine-play, 73-yard drive. Rice's 1-yard scoring run up the middle -- his first this season after 78 touches without one, the most in the NFL this season -- ended a five-play, 72-yard drive.
At that point, the Ravens had run 12 plays in the red zone while the Broncos had run 12plays in the entire game. They had out-gained Denver 219-42.
It was domination by the Ravens and a dose of humiliation for the Broncos.
"I don't think we played as tough against a team like this," Denver coach Josh McDaniels said, "and for the first time I thought our mental toughness was questioned."
What could also be questioned was the decision-making of wide receiver Demaryius Thomas. The rookie returned a kickoff from 5 yards deep in the end zone and fumbled after a teeth-gnashing collision. The Ravens caused the loose ball when Jason Phillips hit Thomas low and Edgar Jones clocked him high.
The Ravens' third forced turnover of the season led to a 37-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff, pushing the lead to 17-0 midway through the second quarter.
"I just took my shot," Jones said. "It was one of those hits that you don't get a lot. I will remember that one."