Here's what is on my mind after the Ravens (3-1) beat the Steelers (3-1) in Pittsburgh on Sunday:
1. We might have witnessed the finest minute of Joe Flacco's young NFL career as the third-year quarterback rallied the Ravens to a thrilling, come-from-behind victory over their hated rivals. Trailing 14-10 late in the fourth quarter, Flacco completed four straight passes for 40 yards, including a beautiful 18-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. He showed poise in the face of a tenacious Steelers pass rush – he got great protection from the offensive line and tight end Todd Heap on his game-winning pass, too – as he carried the Ravens to his first career win in Pittsburgh. Winning like that was "pretty cool," Flacco said after yet another exciting, back-and-forth game in the NFL's best rivalry. Pretty cool indeed, Joe.
2. Ravens wide receivers Derrick Mason and Houshmandzadeh, forgotten men before Sunday, played significant roles in the Ravens' win. Mason, the team's leading receiver with six catches for 80 yards, did most of his damage in the first half. Houshmandzadeh was huge on the game-winning drive, hauling in a first-down catch then burning Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden for six points on the next play. Anquan Boldin (seven catches for 68 yards) made key contributions, too, as we finally caught a glimpse of the three-headed receiving monster -- and it looked scary -- that everyone envisioned when the Ravens signed Houshmandzadeh.
3. It wasn't looking pretty for the Ravens when the Steelers seized control with a fourth-quarter momentum swing. The defense, stout in the third quarter after a pair of Ravens turnovers, got gashed on a 13-play, 93-yard touchdown drive by the Steelers. Then the offense came up short at the goal line because of questionable play-calling by Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (really, Cam, a fade to a 6-foot-1 receiver on 4th down?). But the Ravens hung tough, and when the pendulum of momentum swung back around, they capitalized. This is the kind of win that builds championship-caliber character and composure.
4. It took help from Heap and the team's running backs, but the Ravens were able to shut down the Steelers' dynamic pass-rushing duo of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. After shaky performances against the Jets and the Bengals, the Ravens' offensive line protected Flacco much better against the Browns and the Steelers. It's no coincidence Flacco and the offense as a whole played well.
5. Kudos to Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb for his blanket coverage of Steelers speedster Mike Wallace on long bombs. Webb, still working off the rust after returning a couple of weeks ago from serious knee surgery, was able to stick with one of the NFL's fastest receivers on a trio of deep throws in the fourth quarter. Very encouraging.
6. Despite having their depth at running back put to the test, the Ravens were able to get enough going on the ground against Pittsburgh's stout run defense to keep the Steelers on their toes. Willis McGahee got the start and led the team with 14 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. But he and fullback Le'Ron McClain both suffered stingers – McClain returned, McGahee didn't – forcing Ray Rice, who was questionable entering the game with a knee bruise, to be the lead back in the fourth. The Ravens averaged just 2.6 yards per carry, but sticking with the run took a lot of pressure off of Flacco and the offensive line.
7. The Baltimore pass defense claimed another victim Sunday -- Chuck Batch -- making it four straight weeks in which the Ravens smothered an underwhelming passing attack. A little confidence goes a long way, and the secondary looks like an extremely confident bunch right now. I'm eager to see how this unit fares against some of the elite quarterbacks looming on the schedule – Tom Brady, Drew Brees and yes, Ben Roethlisberger.