PITTSBURGH — About 30 minutes after his 52-yard field goal sent the Ravens spilling from the sideline onto the field in celebration, kicker Justin Tucker was still clutching the football he put through the uprights.
"I definitely think that this first win should catalyze us to go on to big things," Tucker said.
Whether the Ravens' thrilling, 23-20 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Heinz Field is ultimately remembered as one of the few highlights of a disappointing season or the game that galvanized a turnaround remains to be seen.
Even in a euphoric visiting locker room, the Ravens seemed to be keeping things in perspective. Their first win in four tries was badly needed, and the manner in which they achieved it — coming back from a 13-point second-half deficit, forcing overtime on a late field goal and then getting two huge fourth-down defensive stops in overtime — was significant given their early-season struggles to seal victories.
But there also seemed to be an understanding that the win over their biggest rival won't mean much unless the Ravens build off the things they do well and correct the mistakes that have forced them to try to come from behind late in games
"I think we all find in life that every adversity that you walk through is the toughest one in your life when you're in it. Ours is just beginning," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, whose team was the last in the AFC to get its first win. "We're 1-3. We have to play in a little more than a week against the Cleveland Browns, who are a very good football team in the division once again. We know where we're at. We know what we have to overcome. You can't get two until you get one. This one was a long time coming. We're happy to get it."
The Ravens reported Friday to the Under Armour Performance Center to review game film and make corrections, and to take the team picture. Harbaugh is giving players the weekend off before they return to the facility early next week to begin preparations for the Oct. 11 matchup against the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens can surely use the break. They're coming off a stretch in which they played the Cincinnati Bengals and Steelers in a five-day span. Before that, they spent nine straight days on the West Coast, a trip book-ended by close losses to the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders.
Already without wide receiver Breshad Perriman (knee), tight end Crockett Gillmore (calf), left tackle Eugene Monroe (concussion) and defensive end Chris Canty (calf), the Ravens lost two of their top four receivers when Steve Smith Sr. and Michael Campanaro (River Hill) went down with back injuries against Pittsburgh.
The Ravens' first order of business will be to get healthier. Then they'll turn their attention to getting better.
"A short-lived celebration right now, because we know we've got to get right back to work to get ready for Cleveland," safety Will Hill said. "This is a great boost for our organization. ... This is the best rivalry in football. For us to come out on a short week, after these tough losses, to come out and pull this out is great."
Deeming it premature to say the win saved the Ravens' season, nose tackle Brandon Williams said: "It's a good steppingstone for next week to go with that momentum, and just to continue with that momentum on to next week and to continue to get better and better each week. We've still got a lot more games to go. But do we feel good about where we're at now? Yes. Can we get better? Definitely."
The Ravens' much-maligned defense now has something off which to build, even if its strong performance came against a Steelers offense led not by Ben Roethlisberger but by backup quarterback Mike Vick. The Ravens held the Steelers to 263 yards of total offense and 96 net passing yards. They entered the game ranked 23rd and 29th in the NFL in those categories, respectively, having given up an average of 375 yards of offense and 291 passing yards over their first three games.
Beyond that, the Ravens, aided by two missed field-goal tries by Josh Scobee, held the Steelers scoreless on Pittsburgh's final seven full drives. After giving up so much ground late in the first three games, the defense flipped the script and kept giving the Ravens offense opportunities.
"The last few weeks, we've been giving up some stuff, not getting off the field on third down. Two-minute drives, we're not getting off the field," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "Every man held himself accountable for it, and every time we went to the sideline, we were just like, "It's not going to be on us. Focus. Work on your technique. It's not going to be on us.' That's how it turned out. We played that way. We played together."
On offense, the Ravens found their running game as Justin Forsett rushed for 150 yards on 27 carries and the team averaged 4.9 yards per carry and gained 191 yards on the ground. With questions about Joe Flacco's receiving options going forward, it will remain critical for the offense to establish the run.
"We got great offensive linemen and a great fullback to open up lanes for me. We feel like that's the strength of our team, our running game," Forsett said. "It didn't pan out the last couple of weeks, but we were able to get it going and now we can build upon that."
It wasn't a flawless effort. Flacco threw an interception and lost a fumble and has turned the ball over six times in four games. The Steelers blitzed the Ravens throughout and sacked Flacco five times. The Ravens still need more consistency from secondary receiving options such as Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown.
Their pass rush remains nonexistent at times, and the Ravens defense still struggles with fundamentals such as tackling and technique. But it's far easier to work on those things coming off a win than a loss.
Leave it to Flacco to sum up what it means for the Ravens to get their first victory.
"It feels a lot better than 0-4," Flacco said. "I think that's what was kind of staring us in the face there."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jon Meoli contributed to this article.