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Stover makes point on kickoffs,too

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PITTSBURGH -- For Matt Stover, it's never too late to teach an "old" kicker new tricks.

Besides accounting for more than half the Ravens' points with three field goals, Stover proved how much more valuable he's become this season, sending three kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks.

Last year Stover had three touchbacks for the entire season, two of which rolled into the end zone. His deep kicks yesterday were the major reason the Steelers' average starting field position was their 19-yard line.

Stover said the touchbacks were a result of his off-season work in which he put more hip motion into his kicks.

"It's a little technique issue," Stover said. "Just like Tiger Woods, I had to throw away the old form and put up a new, not like I'm Tiger Woods. I know I'm 180 pounds, so I have to hit with every-thing I got into it. It's more of a power move."

It was a better start to this season than last for Stover. He missed two 54-yard field-goal attempts in last year's opener and fell into a 10-for-15 rut.

But yesterday, Stover was his automatic self from inside the 40 hitting field goals from 23, 26 and 93 yards. He is now 144 of 157 for his career from that distance (92 percent) and has hit 21 straight field goals overall dating to last season -- the second-longest current streak in the NFL.

"My point is I'm an 11-year vet, 32 years old, and I just signed a four-year deal," Stover said. "I'm not old. Don't be calling me old. I just want to stay healthy, keep fresh and kick the ball well."

Kids pitch in

The Ravens' first-round draft picks, receiver Travis Taylor and running back Jamal Lewis, each played supporting roles yesterday.

Taylor, who also started in his NFL debut, caught four passes for 50 yards. His big play came on a 28-yard reception in which he ran 15 yards with just one shoe.

"Travis had a couple of big plays for us, obviously," Ravens coach Brian Billlick said. "He is a tough kid. He came up with a good catch on the third down, so this was great for him. Again, to do this on the road, that is a heck of a learning experience for him."

Lewis, who was still wearing a brace to protect the left elbow he dislocated in an early preseason scrimmage, had five carries in the second half for 16 yards. He took his first hits in last week's preseason finale, but seemed more confident following yesterday's game.

"This is the real test that I had in my mind," Lewis said. "This is what I expected. It was a great feeling."

Banks' shot

Quarterback Tony Banks took a shot on his right, throwing elbow in the second quarter that left him in pain - mentally and physically - at game's end.

Banks was blindsided by line-backer Joey Porter on a second-and-10 incompletion early in the quarter. He completed 12 of 18 passes for 157, yards, but after the arm stiffened on him at halftime, Banks was only 6-for-14 for 42 yards in the second half.

"It bothered me a little," Banks said. "Usually I don't make that many ugly plays."

While Banks was not pleased with his performance, Billick was at least satisfied given the nature of Pittsburgh's stunting defense.

"Very efficient in terms of orchestrating the offense," Billick said of Banks' play. "He didn't put us at risk, didn't throw an interception. He missed a couple of wide-open people, and wasn't as sharp as he'd like to be."

Boulware steps Up

While outside linebacker Peter Boulware did not start, it only took him until the fourth defensive series to be playing full time.

Boulware, who has been lim-ited with tendinitis in his right shoulder played only one quarter in the preseason and participated passing situations for most of the first quarter yesterday. He finished with three tackles.

That's a rush

If putting pressure on Steelers quarterback Kent Graham was a priority, the Ravens all pitched in.

A lot of people met back there," said defensive end Michael McCrary. "It's a race to the quarterback. It's a great feeling to be part of a defense like that."

Road warriors

With a daunting stretch of five road games in seven weeks, the Ravens appear to be learning how to win in enemy territory.

"We're going to find out," safety Rod Woodson said. "This is only one game and we've got seven more..It's a steppingstone. If we learn from the mistakes we made on both sides of the ball ... we're heading in the right direction.

"But if we don't learn, there are going to be some critical games that we're going to play on the road these next couple of weeks, and we have to play a little better than [this]."

Rolling on the Rivers

Priest Holmes continued his success at Three Rivers Stadium, gaining 119 yards on 27 carries. Last year, he ran for 130 yards against the Steelers.

It was his seventh career 100-yard game -- all in victories --in 18 starts.

"Just like last year, he did a beck of a job for us," Billick said. "He got some tough yards."

In his first four games against Pittsburgh, Holmes produced a total of 101 yards.

Beat 'em at own game

Unlike last season, the Ravens utilized more of a conservative running game to go along with their tough defensive play against the Steelers, leading Billick to draw a comparison.

"We kind of played Steeler ball today," Billick said. "To do that in their backyard is a positive for us"

Busted

The lone touchdown-Of the game -- a 53-yard sideline connection between Banks and Qadry Ismail late in the first quarter-- was the result' of a Steelers' secondary miscommunication.

Replays showed how Steelers cornerback Chad Scott, the former University of Maryland standout, let Ismail pass him after the first 10 yards, then looked to find no safety covering Ismail upfield. Oops.

It was free safety, Brent Alexander, starting his first Steelers game and his first position since 1998 with Carolina.

"The safety called one thing, and did another," Scott said.

"The safeties did a poor job of communicating today, especially on that play," said strong safety Lee flowers.

Chop, phooey

Pittsburgh linebacker Earl Holmes was both pained and peeved over a low block by Holmes late in the first quarter.

"In my case, I got a chop block," Holmes said afterward, referring to his high ankle sprain. "They got 'a 15-yard penalty. It's illegal to do it. But the seed had been planted.

"I couldn't do anything after that."

Holmes, the Steelers' leading tackler last season with 144, finished the game with seven tackles. Fellow inside linebacker Levon Kirkland, who also sustained an ankle injury, ended with four.

Hot and tired

The Ravens controlled the foot' ball 10 full minutes longer than the Steelers, including a nearly double advantage -- 29:22 to 15:38 through three quarters. During that time, the Ravens compiled 16 first downs and 296 offensive yards to the Steelers' four first downs and 92 yards.

"You're out there, in and out, in and out," Holmes said of the tuckered defense. "Eventually, it gets to you."

Slash burned

Kordell Stewart who had burned the Ravens with a 5-0 record as a starter previously (remember Bill Cowher's kiss on the cheek a few years ago?), took the field for only three plays. And they were ugly.

First-and-goal at the Ravens' 5 One-yard loss by Jerome Bettis up the middle; Stewart incompletion; a fumbled exchange between Stewart and Bettis.

"People keep pointing at me," said the much-maligned Stewart, who compiled a 34.5 completion percentage and 39.8: quarterback rating in the preseason and lost the starting job to free agent Kent Graham. "It's not about Kordell. I'm tired of saying that over and over again.

Rather, he said, it's the offense and inconsistencies and injuries. Added he,"Once we get that rectified, we'll be off to the races."

As for resuming his "Slash" role in that one fourth-quarter series, Stewart said: "It's not easy [going in cold]. You know, man that's just the way it is being a backup."

End zone

The Ravens won their first season opener since 1996, their first game upon moving from Cleveland. The Ravens allowed only two first downs in the first half and kept the Steelers out of their territory for the first 34 minutes of the game...The Ravens were 5-for-16 (31 percent) on third downs.

Chuck Finder contributed to this article.

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