For most of the game, it didn't seem as if the Redskins were even going to make the Ravens break a sweat. (Not that it would have been easy for anyone to sweat with that wind-chill factor.) They did, though, by early in the fourth quarter, when they took advantage of the Ravens' gifts the same way the Ravens had taken advantage of some gifts of their own.
The Ravens survived it, though. And now, the kind-of, sort-of Beltway rivalry is behind them. Make way, finally, for the real thing. Pittsburgh Steelers, 4:15 p.m. Sunday. AFC North lead and, likely, the division title on the line. No more one-way hatred, no more halfhearted responses from the other end, no more puzzled reactions to it all from the players.
Both teams, cities and fan bases, all chugging authentic, non-imitation hater-ade by the gallon. Thank goodness.
What made it even better - or worse, depending on what you were hoping for as a result - is that before last night's 24-10 Ravens victory kicked off, the franchise-record crowd filing into M&T; Bank Stadium was treated to the fourth quarter of the Steelers' game against the Cowboys in Pittsburgh. For most of the night, that stood out as the most drama-packed contest seen in the building. Until the Ravens turned it over late in the third quarter and early in the fourth - leading to the Redskins' 10 points - the Ravens were making a 17-0 lead look like 47-0.
This had seemed locked down for good way back in the first quarter, at the moment Ed Reed backpedaled across the goal line 5 1/2 minutes into the game, with the ball he separated from Clinton Portis, to make it Ravens 14-0.
As much as the Ravens have been scoring lately, the defense is still this team's engine, and good thing, because last night the Ravens didn't have much else. The first score of the game, of course, was also set up by the defense, when on the third play of the game Terrell Suggs whacked Jason Campbell from behind and caused his pass downfield to flutter into the hands of the diving Reed. (Reed took it away three times in all last night.)
The Ravens needed just five plays to get it into the end zone. From then on, though, the offense pretty much disappeared, resurfacing to turn it over and get the Redskins close, and then again to pad the final margin at the end.
Still, there are very few holes to punch in this win. As recently as two weeks ago, the Redskins were expected to not only put up a fight, but a very good one - why else would this game have been "flexed" into a prime-time spot? Instead, they became the second straight road kill from the NFC East, after the throttling of Philadelphia two weeks ago.
This part of the Ravens' schedule is where the land mines were supposed to be. No doubt there is a big one next week. The Cowboys did the Ravens no favors yesterday, in that game that wiped the pre-game grins off the M&T; fans' faces, when Dallas coughed up a 10-point fourth-quarter lead and let the Steelers get away.
So the Ravens, at 9-4, go into Sunday's Steelers visit trailing by a game in the division instead of tied. It makes the game no less critical. Yes, it's easy to label any game a must-win, but this one really is. Lose, and they are left with a dogfight for a wild-card berth with three other teams. Win, and they're in the land of tiebreakers (don't ask).
Best of all, none of the passion this week will be contrived, forced or imagined. Now, that will be a real game, and a real rivalry.
Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m. on WNST (1570 AM).