PITTSBURGH - With a minute left in the Ravens' season-opening 16-0 victory yesterday, right tackle Harry Swayne couldn't contain his laughter talking to right guard Mike Flynn.
"It ain't easy," Swayne said to Flynn. "Your first start out there and you're playing center after a quarter and a half."
Under strenuous circumstances, the offensive line entered as the team's major question mark and left Three Rivers Stadium with some positive answers.
Injured center Jeff Mitchell left with 5:27 left in the first half, but the unit persevered in helping the Ravens crank out 140 yards rushing as well as finishing with one sack allowed.
More astounding, they accomplished this with an inexperienced middle matched up against an aggressive and attacking Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
Flynn shifted to center despite snapping the ball only four times last week in practice. Backup guard Orlando Bobo, who has one start in three years, moved into Flynn's spot on the right side for over two quarters of work. And left guard Edwin Mulitalo held his own in first season-opening start.
"Our offensive line, I'm very proud of them, particularly when Mitchell goes down," Billick said. "You got to have that depth. I think we showed that today."
In the last series before halftime, Mitchell suffered a contusion on his left knee when a Steeler rolled into him during an open-field block. He said he felt his knee twist and his knee cap go out, forcing him to the ground.
"There's a good chance I'll be back next week," said Mitchell, whose left knee was heavily taped. "It scared the heck out of me."
Flynn didn't have too much time to think about his new situation since Mitchell's injury occurred on the third play of a possession. He didn't have time to adjust either, as nose tackle Kimo Von Oelhoffen knocked Flynn back five yards into the backfield his first play at center.
The Ravens, though, marched 52 yards down field with Flynn at center, ending the drive with a 26-yard field goal by Matt Stover.
"The game doesn't stop there," Flynn said of his first taste at center. "I just went out there and kept playing. We kept moving, that's the biggest thing."
After that, he still struggled with his footwork and didn't have great authority on his calls at the line. While Flynn knows he'll be more prepared for such an adjustment in the future, he also understands his consistency must increase for the offense to be effective against stronger defenses.
"It went so-so," Flynn said. "It was a little crazy, to be honest with you. I can't believe we have 15 games left."
Coach Brian Billick was surprised how Flynn handled the situation. He also said that Flynn's showing should diminish the criticism of his first-year starter.
"For him to have to change positions and play the way he did, I think some people have to re-evaluate how that player is playing right now," he said.
In contrast to Flynn, Mulitalo and Bobo weren't thrown into new roles.
Mulitalo started the last eight games as a rookie last season. Bobo played the first three years of his career in Billick's system with the Minnesota Vikings.
Although they may not have been the most technically sound performances, this group in the middle created enough space for the Ravens to average 3.9 yards per carry and produce their fourth-best rushing day in Billick's 17-game tenure.
you run the ball, they're a huge factor," Billick said. "You can't do it without the offensive line, you really can't. In the tough sledding that we had - the pushing and shoving - I'm very pleased how the offensive line played."
The veterans of this unit, like three-time Super Bowl participant Swayne, have already put this game into perspective.
The line may have enjoyed success and proved it can survive a loss of a starter during a game. But they haven't established themselves yet.
"I think the first test was great for them," Swayne said. "But what they don't know is there's 15 other tests and they're all different."Fast fact Priest Holmes is the Ravens' all-time leading rusher with 1,633 yards after yesterday's 119-yard performance.