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Ravens defense sets up offense for win

In the end, the Ravens' 17-14 win against the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on Sunday will be remembered for Joe Flacco's 18-yard touchdown strike to T.J. Houshmandzadeh. But the team had an opportunity to claim victory because of the defense's performance.

Faced with several moments of adversity, that unit stayed resilient, eventually setting the offense up with a chance for its game-winning heroics.

"That's because of the way we practiced this week," said defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who was a one-man wrecking ball for the Ravens. "We had a lot of trust in each other. We weren't trying to do more than we had to. We made the plays we had to."

That the Steelers could muster just 14points was a testament to the defense's play. Twice in the third quarter, Pittsburgh's offense regained possession inside the Ravens' 35-yard line courtesy of a pair of takeaways by outside linebacker James Harrison (when he stripped running back Willis McGahee) and cornerback Ike Taylor (when he intercepted a pass Flacco intended for wide receiver Derrick Mason).

But both Steelers' drives ended without points. After Harrison's strip, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' sack of Pittsburgh quarterback Charlie Batch forced kicker Jeff Reed to attempt a 49-yard field goal, which he clanged off the right upright.

And after Taylor's interception, the offense moved just 6 yards, and Reed hooked a 45-yarder wide left.

"I thought the two turnover opportunities that we had in the third quarter were significant opportunities in the game that we didn't capitalize on in terms of putting points on the board," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We knew that points were going to be scarce in this matchup, and they were again today."

The Ravens limited running back Rashard Mendenhall, the league's fourth-leading rusher entering Sunday's game, to 79 yards on 25 carries, and Pittsburgh converted just 4 of 11 third-down chances. Ray Lewis had the defense's first interception of the season when he caught Batch's pass intended for Hines Ward with 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter.

"We relish any opportunity to get out and play football and show what we're about," inside linebacker Jameel McClain said. "We have each other's backs. … This defense plays 24/7 regardless of the situation."

McGahee starts

Making his first start since Oct. 4 against the New England Patriots, Willis McGahee finished with 14 carries for 39 yards and a neat 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter in which he evaded diving tackles by linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons.

"It's nothing new," McGahee said. "I'm approaching it the same way I've been doing since training camp. So to me, it's nothing different."

McGahee got the start over Ray Rice, who bruised his right knee Sept. 26 and had been limited in practice on Thursday and Friday.

"I knew ahead of time," Rice said of not getting the start. "Once they [the coaches] got comfortable knowing that I wasn't going to favor my knee, I was in. I was fine. It was a trust thing. I think the coaches trust me enough to know that I'm not going to go out there and harm our team."

Ngata's career day

For the first time in his five-year career, Ngata recorded double-digit tackles, finishing with 11 -- including eight solo stops.

He also sacked Batch on the Steelers' opening possession, posted two quarterback hurries, and collected two tackles for losses.

"I was able to make the plays that came to me," said Ngata, who earned his first career Pro Bowl invite last season. "I'm happy that they tried to test me so that I could make those plays."

Oher aims to improve

Michael Oher has had better days.

The left tackle moved early in the first quarter to take the offense out of field-goal range and then was flagged for holding Harrison in the second quarter that moved the unit from Pittsburgh's 5 to the 15.

On the flip side, Harrison, who was matched up against Oher frequently, did not sack Flacco or collect a quarterback hurry.

"I'm pretty sure that when I go back and watch the film, I'll have a ton of things to do better," Oher said. "Harrison is a great player. I've just got to watch the film and get better."

Injury updates

McGahee said he got hit in the head by Harrison when he fumbled the ball, and he did not return as Rice and fullback Le'Ron McClain spent the remainder of the game at tailback.

"I could've gone back in," said McGahee, adding that he would play next Sunday against the Denver Broncos. "But I didn't have to go in because Ray and Le'Ron were running well."

McClain said his right shoulder went numb a for a few minutes after he and free safety Ryan Clark crashed into each other late in the third quarter. "I'm good, though," said McClain, who did return to the game in the final quarter. "No pain."

Paul Kruger's left knee was wrapped after the game. The defensive end, who was not available for comment, jumped offside on defense and was called for holding that negated what would have been a 41-yard kickoff return by Jalen Parmele. Kruger did bat down a pass at the line of scrimmage and register a sack and forced fumble negated by a pair of offsetting penalties.

Cody gets off the bench

Rookie nose tackle Terrence Cody made his 2010 debut Sunday.

Cody, a second-round selection in April who had been deactivated through the first three games, played in part because of the unavailability of defensive ends Cory Redding (concussion) and Trevor Pryce (released and signed by the New York Jets).

Although Cody did not register a tackle, he was happy to contribute.

"I made a mistake or two out there, but I think I did OK," he said. "This is my first game. I just want to build all the way up from here."

End zone

In addition to Redding, the Ravens deactivated linebackers Tavares Gooden (dislocated left shoulder) and Edgar Jones (thigh), cornerbacks Josh Wilson and rookie Prince Miller, offensive tackle Jared Gaither (thoracic disk in back), wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (broken left foot) and rookie defensive tackle Arthur Jones. … The Steelers scratched starting right guard Trai Essex (ankle) and Doug Legursky started in Essex's place. Pittsburgh also deactivated cornerbacks Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler, nose tackle Chris Hoke (knee), rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer, offensive tackle Tony Hills, linebacker Thaddeus Gibson and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. … Nose tackle Kelly Gregg, tight end Todd Heap and kicker Billy Cundiff represented the Ravens for the pre-game coin toss. … The Ravens wore white jerseys and white pants for the first time this season. The team had worn purple jerseys in the previous three contests.

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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