It had been five weeks since the Ravens enjoyed this kind of celebration.
Tight end Eric Green was taunting his former teammates along the sideline. Bam Morris was adding the latest steps to his Bamarama dance. The Ravens were talking much trash in the locker room, as if they had won a conference championship or a Super Bowl.
But let the Ravens talk. They deserved to after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers, 31-17, yesterday before 51,822 at Memorial Stadium, ending a four-game losing streak with their first AFC Central victory of the season.
By the Ravens' standards, this was a blowout. Their running game dominated in the second half, accounting for 122 total yards. Their passing offense added 250 more and contributed the insurance points on Green's 3-yard touchdown catch across the middle from quarterback Vinny Testaverde with 12: 22 left in the game.
The Ravens (4-9) committed only one turnover, and they didn't blow a big lead as they had in three of their previous four games.
And to cap off a rainy afternoon, Testaverde actually dropped to his knee on two consecutive plays to end the game.
Let the talk begin:
"I used to be a Steeler and I know how they think. They thought they were just going to come in and spank us," said Morris. "I talked to them on the phone, and they said, 'Are you ready for a whipping?' They thought we were going to lay down."
There was no celebration in the Steelers' locker room after a game in which they had hoped to clinch at least a tie for their third straight AFC Central title. There was just a team that looked tired from being involved in a game six days ago and playing like it by being outscored 24-7 in the last 42 minutes of yesterday's game.
But the Ravens weren't in the mood to hear excuses. Pittsburgh (9-4) had won the last seven games against the Browns/Ravens.
"They didn't want to play, man," said Ravens safety Bennie Thompson. "They talked a lot of trash, but couldn't back it up. They didn't think a 3-9 team could play this hard. We kicked their [tails] with their own 3-4 defense."
There was a little more of a team effort. Testaverde completed 17 of 24 passes for 259 yards and three touchdowns, most of those completions to wide receiver Derrick Alexander, who was outstanding with seven catches for a career-high 198 yards.
Morris complemented the passing game, rushing for 100 yards on 28 carries as the Ravens' offensive line overpowered the Steelers up front.
And then there was the defense, which for most of the season has played poorly, but has come around in the past few weeks. The Ravens worked on some new blitzes last week, and while linebackers Keith Goganious, Ray Lewis, Mike Caldwell and Mike Croel controlled the action up front, safeties Eric Turner, Stevon Moore and cornerback Antonio Langham made plays when they had to.
Pittsburgh had 333 yards of total offense, but the Steelers were no factor when they had to come from behind on the arm of quarterback Mike Tomczak, who completed 18 of 36 passes for 221 yards.
After opening the third quarter with a seven-play, 46-yard drive -- that was culminated by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Tomczak to Andre Hastings across the middle, the Steelers didn't have a serious threat until they reached the Ravens' 15 with 7: 36 left in the game.
But on fourth-and-four, Turner knocked away Tomczak's pass for Hastings that might have given the Steelers a first down.
"The defense played an outstanding game," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "At the end of the game, we were able to stop them. We made the plays at the end of the game, finally, when we had to, and that's the difference."
Maybe no player made bigger plays than Alexander, especially in the second quarter when he snared five passes for 166 yards and caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Testaverde.
Alexander's best and most controversial catch came with 2: 25 left in the first half. He had a step on cornerback Willie Williams down the left sideline and both seemed to have their hands on the ball at the peaks of their leaps.
But Alexander snatched control on the way down and was given credit for a 44-yard reception even though instant replay showed he lost possession on the way down.
One official ruled that Alexander had fumbled once he hit the ground (the Steelers recovered), but that was overturned because the ground cannot cause a fumble.
Ravens running back Earnest Byner scored four plays later on a 7-yard draw up the middle that put the Ravens ahead 21-10 with 1: 24 remaining in the half.
"Once I hit the ground, it popped out. They made the right call," said Alexander.
"My only point about it is the man who saw it gave some thought and made a call very decisively," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who opened himself up for second-guessing by calling for a short pass to receiver Ernie Mills in the right flat that fell incomplete, instead of running Jerome Bettis (105 yards on 24 carries), on third-and-one at his own 36 with 2: 19 left in the third quarter.
"There is a conference and then the call was changed. You make the interpretation based on sitting where I sit. What would you think? Let me say this, that did not lose the football game for us. We didn't block, we didn't tackle. Quite frankly, we didn't play a very good football game."
When Tomczak vastly underthrew a receiver in the final minute of the half, Croel intercepted and returned it 16 yards to the Steelers' 42, setting up a 40-yard field goal by Matt Stover as the half expired with the Ravens ahead 24-10.
Of course, this was no assurance of victory, given the Ravens' penchant for blowing sizable halftime -- and even fourth-quarter -- leads. But there were other mistakes by Pittsburgh, like safety Carnell Lake jumping offside on third-and-four at the Steelers' 30, giving the Ravens a first down and eventually setting up Green's touchdown.
And then Myron Bell was called for roughing punter Greg Montgomery on fourth-and-one from the Ravens' 12 with 3: 28 left.
"You can't live off the missed penalties. You have to overcome those things and we weren't able to," said Bettis.
Instead, it was the Ravens' day to overcome. Finally.
The Ravens are starting to return some key injured players to the lineup such as defensive tackle Dan Footman (fractured forearm) and center Steve Everitt (partially torn pectoral muscle).
"We said we were going to turn the corner," Marchibroda said, "and, hopefully, this game turned the corner for us."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Cincinnati Bengals
Site: Cinergy Field, Cincinnati
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 11/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Last meeting: Bengals beat Ravens, 24-21, at Memorial Stadium on Nov. 3 Record: 5-8
Yesterday: Lost to Jaguars, 30-27
Pub Date: 12/02/96