The Ravens held on to their Super Bowl hopes even as they endured the disgrace of Ray Rice's assault charge, the suspension of Haloti Ngata and dozens of injuries large and small.

So perhaps the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers — with their Pro Bowl quarterback and boisterous home crowd — just didn't seem terribly daunting by the time the Ravens showed up at Heinz Field for a Saturday night wild-card showdown.


Behind a stifling defense and two touchdown passes by quarterback Joe Flacco, the Ravens easily won the matchup, 30-17, to advance in the playoffs.

"We got hot at the right time," said Billy Amann, a 26-year-old accountant from Catonsville, echoing the sentiment of happy fans at the Cross Street Market in Federal Hill.

"We were looking shady, but we're looking good now!" agreed Dave Olszewski of Arbutus.

With the victory, the Ravens advance to an even more difficult road game Saturday afternoon against the top-seeded New England Patriots. It's a familiar challenge: The Ravens lost the 2012 AFC Championship Game in Foxborough, Mass., and won it there the next year.

The upset in Pittsburgh added to the Ravens' remarkable playoff record under coach John Harbaugh. He has led them to the postseason six times in seven seasons and never failed to win at least one game.

Now, the Ravens are just two wins from a third Super Bowl appearance. Memories of their desperate scramble just to get into the playoffs seem distant.

They went to Pittsburgh as clear underdogs, facing a high-powered Steelers offense that had scored 43 points on them in November.

But that didn't stop Baltimore-area fans from coming out to cheer Saturday.

Each time the Ravens scored or made a big stop on defense, the Cross Street Market crowd erupted in cheers, high fives, and eventually renditions of the unofficial team anthem, "Seven Nation Army."

"Playoff football — you can't beat it," said Dominic Sgroi, 22, after posing for a celebratory fourth-quarter selfie with friends.

Sgroi, an IT worker from Jarrettsville, pointed to the team's resilience after it overcame hurdle after hurdle this season. "The next guy steps up. It's the Ravens way," he said.

The Ravens seemed close to crashing out of the playoff race late in the season, when they lost in Houston behind a pitiful offensive performance.

They only ducked into the postseason with a fourth-quarter rally against the dysfunctional Cleveland Browns. Even then, the team needed help — a Kansas City Chiefs victory over another playoff contender — to regain the wild-card spot they'd squandered.

Regardless of how the Ravens got in, veteran stars such as linebacker Terrell Suggs and quarterback Joe Flacco had said the team would begin the playoffs with a clean slate. They also had faltered late in the 2012 season, only to roll past a succession of higher-seeded opponents on the way to a Super Bowl win.


Players made it clear that was their goal again, even after one of the most tumultuous seasons in team history.

The Ravens entered training camp under the pall of the Rice scandal, which began in February when the website TMZ posted video of the former Pro Bowl running back dragging his unconscious fiancee from the elevator of an Atlantic City hotel-casino. Rice initially was suspended for two games by the league, and team officials said they would welcome him back to the lineup.

But the Ravens released Rice the day after the team's season-opening loss, when TMZ posted another video — one that showed him punching Janay Palmer. Rice, who entered a pre-trial diversion program and married Palmer, eventually appealed his increased punishment — an indefinite suspension — and had it overturned.

The Ravens remained at the center of national furor for weeks as critics lashed team and NFL officials for their sluggish response.

Even as that storm gradually receded, the Ravens played through a succession of injuries that felled key players such as tight end Dennis Pitta and cornerback Jimmy Smith, with 19 Ravens ultimately going on the injured reserve list.

Just when it seemed their troubles couldn't deepen further, the Ravens were startled to learn that Ngata, one of their cornerstones, would miss the last four games of the regular season because he'd tested positive for the banned stimulant Adderall.

In the latest controversy to hit the Ravens, an M&T Bank Stadium worker told police that the team's director of security groped and forced himself against her as she walked him through the facility after a December home game, according to court documents. Police filed a fourth-degree sex offense charge against Darren I. Sanders last week; his attorney said the allegations were "totally fabricated."

In light of all that went wrong, perhaps the Ravens should have been happy just to make the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons — a record of consistency matched by just three other NFL teams.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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