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STEADY START FOR WEBB

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As debuts go, Lardarius Webb's was nothing to write home about - which suited the rookie cornerback just fine.

Making his first career start, in place of Fabian Washington, Webb played a solid but otherwise unspectacular game in the Ravens' Sunday night AFC North showdown with the reigning Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Webb made three tackles - including one for a loss - broke up one pass, almost intercepted another, and didn't surrender any long passes.

"The defense played great tonight, and I just did my part," said the third-round pick out of Nicholls State, who started for Washington, who is out for the season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a 17-15 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Nov. 22. "When I've got a great defense with Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, they make everything easy. So I just go out and play ball."

All week, coach John Harbaugh and secondary coach Chuck Pagano had insisted that the defense would be comfortable starting either Webb, Chris Carr or Frank Walker, but in the end, it was Webb who lined up opposite fellow starter Domonique Foxworth.

"We saw where he came off the bench - in a situation where he didn't know if he was going to have to - and played pretty well," Pagano said last week, alluding to Webb's play when Washington bruised his left thigh against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 8. "So I think from a confidence standpoint, even though he is young, he's gaining confidence and experience with every game. If that's the case, he'll be fine."

On the few occasions that Pittsburgh went to a three-receiver alignment, Webb went inside to the slot, and Walker took the outside corner spot.

Webb nearly got beat on a 30-yard pass from Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon to rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace, but Wallace dropped the pass in the end zone. On the ensuing play, Webb blitzed Dixon and pressured him enough to overshoot a receiver for a potential first down.

Perhaps the only knock occurred late in the fourth quarter when Webb failed to pull in a Dixon pass meant for tight end Heath Miller. Had he caught the ball, Webb could have gone 30 yards to the end zone.

"I tried to basket-catch it," Webb said. "I almost had it. Was I disappointed? No. I did a good job, but I could've done a great job by picking it and taking it to the house. But it didn't happen."

Ngata on offense

A mainstay on the defensive side of the ball, Haloti Ngata made a contribution offensively.

The defensive tackle lined up as a tackle-eligible player in the offense's goal-line package and provided the key block on running back Willis McGahee's 2-yard plunge into the end zone in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, Ngata was flagged for holding Pittsburgh left guard Ramon Foster to allow linebacker Jarret Johnson to blitz freely up the middle. The penalty led to a first down in Ravens territory, but the Steelers drive stalled, forcing them to punt.

Change at guard

The Ravens made a switch at right guard, starting Marshal Yanda in place of Chris Chester.

"I knew Monday," Yanda said of the change. "I was surprised. It was a change they wanted to go with. You've just got to be ready to step up and go."

Chester had made the last 24 starts (including playoffs) at right guard and was not dealing with an injury last week.

"It was a decision the coaches made during the week," said Chester, who appeared when the unit went to an unbalanced offensive line. "I would've liked the opportunity to be out there to contribute. But the coaches made their decision, and I'm just doing what they say."

Chester had replaced Yanda, who had made the first five starts at that position last season before tearing the anterior cruciate, medial collateral and posterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee against the Indianapolis Colts on Oct. 12.

Holmes on a streak

Santonio Holmes maintained one streak while breaking another.

The Steelers wide receiver scored a touchdown for the sixth straight time against the Ravens when he hauled in a 33-yard scoring strike 49 seconds into the third quarter.

The touchdown was Holmes' first since registering one in the season opener against the Tennessee Titans.

Suggs sits

As expected, Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs was deactivated for Sunday night's game.

Suggs, who missed last week's loss to the Colts with a sprained ligament in his left knee, had held out hope he would be able to play against the Steelers. But Suggs had not practiced last week and had been listed as doubtful by week's end.

Fellow linebacker Antwan Barnes was also scratched. Barnes was thought to be part of a rotation that included Jameel McClain and rookie Paul Kruger to fill in for Suggs.

Barnes was not reported to be dealing with an injury last week.

The Ravens deactivated offensive tackles Tony Moll and Oniel Cousins, nose tackle Kelly Talavou, fullback Charles Ali and cornerback Cary Williams. John Beck was the third quarterback.

End zone

Fullback Le'Ron McClain suffered an abdominal strain after a 7-yard carry near the end of the third quarter. "I pulled something," said McClain, who did not return. "It's hurting like crazy, but I'm good. I'm playing." ... McGahee's touchdown was his first since catching a 13-yard pass against the New England Patriots on Oct. 4. It was his first rushing score since Sept. 27 when he scored twice on the ground in the team's 34-3 romp over the Cleveland Browns. "It's been a long time," McGahee said. "But as long as we got the win, that's all that counts." ... The offensive line fared poorly in the second half, giving up four sacks. Linebacker Lawrence Timmons sacked quarterback Joe Flacco twice and caused a fumble. ... Although the Steelers had entered the contest having surrendered four kickoff returns for touchdowns in their last five games, the Ravens could not follow suit. Webb's longest gain of the night was 30 yards. ... Pittsburgh deactivated three starters in quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (concussion), strong safety Troy Polamalu (strained posterior collateral ligament in left knee) and left guard Chris Kemoeatu (sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee). The Steelers also scratched defensive ends Nick Eason and Sunny Harris, quarterback Charlie Batch (wrist surgery), cornerback Keenan Lewis and guard Kraig Urbik. ... Linebacker Ray Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, Ngata, wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Edgar Jones represented the Ravens for the pre-game coin toss.

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