For a few unworldly moments, the Ravens weren't a last-place team with pent-up frustrations and unfulfilled expectations.
When Matt Stover's 44-yard field goal sailed through the uprights with 4:09 left in overtime, it sent the Ravens cartwheeling to a 16-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday before 70,601 people.
As soon as the Ravens' four-game losing streak had ended, players threw their arms up high and stormed the middle of the M&T Bank Stadium field. Stover, the venerable kicker turned giddy hero, was lifted into the air by long snapper Matt Katula.
And much-maligned quarterback Kyle Boller, who helped the Ravens break a 12-quarter touchdown drought, clenched his fist and quietly said, "Thank you," to himself.
"It felt like we just won the AFC North," defensive end Terrell Suggs said. "What a great finish, what a great game."
This was the biggest game of the year for the Ravens (3-7) because it resembled one they had lost so many times before this season.
The Ravens held a 13-6 lead for nearly the entire second half until the Steelers tied the game with 5:15 left on an 11-yard touchdown pass to Willie Parker. When the momentum had swung previously this season, the Ravens were never able to get it back.
But on the Ravens' second possession of overtime, Boller hit Randy Hymes on a 12-yard pass at the Pittsburgh 44, converting a third-and-10 and ending a string of five straight incompletions.
After a 4-yard gain by Jamal Lewis and a face-mask penalty, Boller essentially put the Ravens in field-goal range with a 6-yard toss to tight end Todd Heap.
Stover's kick capped the winning, 30-yard drive and the 3-hour, 42-minute marathon, sending thousands of Steelers fans home unhappy and causing a raucous on-field celebration that spilled into an electric locker room.
"When you see that [locker room], you see the hope that it creates and the resolve that a team needs to bounce back from a 2-7 start," Stover said. "If I am put in more situations during this year, bring it on and we will win it."
The Ravens remain at the bottom of the AFC North, although that was never spoken yesterday. Many of the players did acknowledge "it wasn't pretty" -- from giving up five sacks to committing two turnovers to the game's nearly 71 minutes of ineffective offense -- but it didn't dampen this significant win.
They dealt a blow to a fierce rival in the Steelers (7-3), who could have taken the division lead and earned their first victory over a winning team since Nov. 14, 2004, a stretch of 371 days.
"We need a win around here," said Boller, who finished an uneven game by completing 21 of 36 passes for 163 yards. "It's been a while since we've won, and it means a lot, man."
Said Heap: "This is the best it's felt all year. You can feel the electricity coming in here after the win. It's something we can build on. We got better today."
The offense, for once, got in the end zone.
After Pittsburgh tied the game at 3 in the second quarter, the Ravens moved within a foot of the goal line on Chester Taylor's 13-yard run. But Boller fell to his knees on the next handoff and inexplicably pitched the ball, which hit off Lewis' face mask and into the arms of Pittsburgh.
A replay challenge overruled the fumble, because referee Ron Winter determined Boller was pulled to the ground by nose tackle Casey Hampton and was therefore down by contact.
Two plays later, Boller floated a 3-yard pass over 5-foot-10 cornerback Deshea Townsend to a leaping 6-3 Hymes, who made a sensational one-handed grab. It marked the Ravens' first touchdown in 34 drives and 190 minutes, 45 seconds of clock time.
Even more astounding was that the dry spell ended on a blind, third-down reception.
"The sun was in my face, but Kyle put the ball where it needed to be and I stuck my hand out," said Hymes. "I barely caught the ball."
After the Ravens extended their lead to 13-6 just before halftime, their offense disappeared for the rest of the game. The Ravens managed only 68 yards the rest of the way, and it didn't matter that they switched from Lewis to Taylor as the featured running back.
The offense was bailed out by a defense determined to take away the Steelers' running game. Playing an extra linebacker in place of a second safety, the Ravens regularly packed the line of scrimmage with eight defenders.
As a result, Pittsburgh was limited to 2.8 yards a carry and was forced to depend on struggling, third-string quarterback Tommy Maddox (19-for-36 for 230 yards), who was roughed up on six sacks.
"We knew if we could stop those guys and put the game in the hands of Tommy Maddox, we wanted to take our chances with that," said linebacker Bart Scott, who had nine tackles, two sacks and one fumble recovery.
"We just tried to bring the heat and make him make quick decisions. He was coming off a tough game, and we didn't want to let him build any confidence early. We just did certain things to take advantage of what he doesn't do well and tried to exploit them."
The Ravens now have to prove whether this upset win is a sign of what's to come in the final six games or just a temporary distraction in a dismal season.
"I'm just happy to be smiling on a Sunday. It's been a long time," said defensive end Tony Weaver, who had two sacks in overtime. "I'm not going to lie. You carry around a lot of weight when you lose that many games in a row. It puts more and more pressure on your team, and you play tight. For us to finally go out there and finally get a win, it relieves a lot of pressure. I think we can really let loose now."
Sunday's game attendance was incorrectly said to be the largest crowd in Baltimore's football history when this article was published in the print edition. The Ravens-Pittsburgh Steelers game drew 70,601, but the 1924 Army-Navy game at Municipal Stadium attracted a crowd of about 80,000. The Sun regrets the error.