PITTSBURGH -- The Ravens played so poorly that it was almost comical.
Backup quarterback Eric Zeier threw a pass that hit an official in the head. The team's running back of the future, Jay Graham, was crushed by the kicker on a return in which he fumbled twice. Then there were numerous dropped passes.
The Ravens were penalized 11 times for 73 yards and quarterback Vinny Testaverde, already fighting the flu, bruised his ribs on the team's third play from scrimmage, but he stayed around long enough to throw three interceptions in the first quarter. The Ravens finished with seven turnovers, six in the first half -- three on consecutive passes.
If the Ravens were going to make a playoff run in this crucial month of November, then maybe it starts next week because the Pittsburgh Steelers easily handled them, 37-0, last night before 56,669 at Three Rivers Stadium.
It was the worst defeat in the Ravens' short history in Baltimore and the first time the Ravens had been shut out.
"We just got beat by the better team today," said Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda. "They outhit us, they outplayed us, they may have even outcoached us. We dug ourselves a deeper hole. We have six games to go. What we have to do now is run the table. This is probably the worst defeat."
When asked if this was a wake-up call, Ravens wide receiver Michael Jackson said: "We've been slapped in the face already this season. This is like salt in the wound. I don't recall having this many mistakes even in high school. This game was on national TV. Everybody in the world saw this."
The Ravens' defense had played well in the first half, but began to melt down in the second half. Pittsburgh opened the period with a 39-yard field goal from Norm Johnson and then scored on a 52-yard touchdown pass from Kordell Stewart to Yancey Thigpen down the left sideline with 6: 36 left in the quarter for a 30-0 lead.
Thigpen easily beat cornerback Eugene Daniel and safety Kim Herring also was slow getting over to help out.
But Marchibroda refused to blame the defense, which held the Steelers to 87 yards of total offense in the first half. "We wasted a strong defensive effort today with all those turnovers and giving up field position," he said. "We couldn't pass, we couldn't run, we couldn't do anything."
Testaverde, who was removed in the second quarter because of bruised ribs, returned to open the third period after taking some painkillers. He was successful moving the team, but his receivers dropped numerous passes, including Ryan Yarborough letting one slip through his hands that would have given the Ravens a first down at the Pittsburgh 21 late in the third period.
But Testaverde didn't use his illness or his injury as an excuse for his three interceptions, all of which occurred in the first quarter.
"What can you say? They beat us, beat us real good," said Testaverde, who completed 13 of 32 passes for 120 yards. "I felt OK before the game and I'm not going to use that as an excuse. The injury to my ribs did affect my throwing, which is why I thought Eric should slip in to see if he could get the job done.
"I'm embarrassed by the way we played, but there is still a lot of football left," he said.
It was the ninth consecutive loss at Three Rivers Stadium for the former Cleveland Browns, and yet another dismal performance for Testaverde, who has won here only once in an NFL career that began in 1987.
Marchibroda said: "Vinny said he could go in and I felt he was our best chance of winning the game."
Testaverde, who has thrown 15 interceptions in his last eight games against Pittsburgh, was replaced by Zeier after his third interception with 48 seconds left in the first quarter. The Ravens also began the game without starting receivers Jackson
(ruptured biceps) and Jermaine Lewis (ankle sprain), but both were inserted into the lineup after the Steelers had taken a 10-0 lead with 2: 24 left in the first period.
Testaverde, who returned for the second half, may have been weak from the flu, but that shouldn't have been the reason he threw into double coverage twice for interceptions.
The first came with 13: 35 left in the first quarter. Testaverde's pass intended for tight end Eric Green was tipped by safety Myron Bell and intercepted by linebacker Steven Conley and returned to the Ravens' 25-yard line.
The Ravens' defense seemed to have stopped the Steelers on a third-and-two at the 17 when tight end Mitch Lyons was tackled several yards short of a first down by cornerback Antonio Langham in the right flat, but rookie outside linebacker Peter Boulware was called for a personal foul for pushing Stewart after he released the ball.
Two plays later on third-and-goal from the 1, running back Jerome Bettis dived over left guard for a touchdown that put Pittsburgh ahead 7-0 with 11: 06 left in the first quarter.
On the Ravens' next possession, Testaverde drove the team from its 16 to the Steelers' 35. But on third-and-four from the 35, Testaverde tried to throw a slant-in route to Yarborough, a pass that was thrown behind him and into two defenders. Free safety Chris Oldham made the easy interception.
The Steelers, using the running of Bettis and quick routes to Thigpen, went 33 yards in eight plays before Johnson connected on a 52-yard field goal that pushed Pittsburgh's lead to 10-0 with 2: 24 left in the quarter.
Testaverde threw his third interception when he threw behind receiver Derrick Alexander and safety Carnell Lake picked it off at the Steelers' 32 with 48 seconds left in the quarter.
The Ravens replaced Testaverde with Zeier, but his first pass bounced off Green and into the arms of free safety Darren Perry, who returned it 42 yards to the Ravens' 1 -- giving the Steelers interceptions on three consecutive Ravens passes.
On the next play, Stewart kept the ball for a touchdown dive up the middle for a 17-0 lead with 13: 22 left in the half.
"Some games you'll see a [defensive] player catch a freak pass and you'll say, 'Why can't that happen to us?' Tonight, it all happened for us," Steelers defensive end Kevin Henry said. "Everything went our way."
The Steelers' last score of the half came after Steelers outside linebacker Greg Lloyd sacked Zeier, forcing a fumble that Pittsburgh recovered at the Ravens' 4, eventually setting up a 22-yard field goal from Johnson with 5: 41 left in the half.
"I think we had enough turnovers to last the entire season," said Jackson, who was held to two receptions in limited action because of his injury. "It's hard to come back against a team like Pittsburgh when you have that many."
"Every team is going to get blown out," added Marchibroda. "We just picked an inopportune time. I think we'll respond. This will be a one-game thing."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Philadelphia Eagles
Site: Memorial Stadium
When: Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 45/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Series: First meeting
Pub Date: 11/10/97