Sitting at 0-3 and with pressure mounting after a late home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, Ravens veterans Joe Flacco and Steve Smith Sr. suggested the team's young core had to believe more and work harder for the Ravens to break their skid.
On both sides of the ball Thursday, first-year players stepped into featured roles and seemed to answer that call from the veterans, keying the Ravens' 23-20, overtime win over the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Rookie tight ends Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle both started Thursday with Crockett Gillmore sidelined with a calf injury, and wide receiver Darren Waller played his most significant role yet after injuries at wide receiver. Defensive tackle Carl Davis started a second straight game at defensive tackle, and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith picked up two consecutive sacks to end a Steelers drive.
The rookie Smith said he personally heard those calls from the veterans this week, and responded in kind.
"I had a couple words with [outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil]," Smith said. "He told me just play all-out. Go all out, and you'll make the plays — just keep hustling to the ball."
Smith did that on his back-to-back, third quarter sacks of Steelers quarterback Mike Vick. On each play — one from rush outside linebacker and one from a down-lineman position, Smith fought through initial blocks and got to Vick as the Steelers backup held the ball.
Smith had four tackles, including the first sacks of his career, while Davis had just one tackle in a run-stopping role, but nose tackle Brandon Williams said that for them to play as well as they did for the Ravens was "big."
"We got to see them go out there, especially in this kind of environment, and see them give everything they've got," Williams said. "That's all we want from them, for them to give the Ravens all that they've got and give their teammates all that they've got, just to pull out a win and win football games. This game under our belt with a W has definitely matured them, but they've still got a long way to go. We've still got a long way to go as a team, and we're going to continue to build."
On offense, rookies figured prominently as well, especially late in the game.
Maxx Williams had his only two catches in the first half, going for 17 yards. Boyle added three catches for 12 yards, the most important reception being a 7-yard fourth-down conversion at the end of the third quarter.
Waller's pair of Week 2 snaps represented his only offensive action through September, but he played 25 snaps and caught his first career pass for a 17-yard gain in the fourth quarter. He saw an increased role because of back injuries to Smith Sr. and Michael Campanaro. Additionally, rookie running back Buck Allen added 19 yards on five carries.
Tucker, with assist from Flacco
With three field goals, including the 52-yard, game-winner in overtime, Ravens kicker Justin Tucker stood in stark contrast to maligned Steelers kicker Josh Scobee on Thursday.
Scobee missed half of his four field goals, the final two giving the Ravens the ball back late in the fourth quarter and opening up a chance for Tucker to tie the game at 20 near the end of regulation, and eventually win it.
Flacco also had something to do with it. Coach John Harbaugh wanted to try and draw the Steelers offsides on that fourth down late in overtime, but Flacco came to the sidelines and said, "Just let him win the game."
Tucker relished the opportunity. The 52-yard field goal was the longest by a visitor at Heinz Field, and was his eighth career game-winner.
"That Morgan [Cox, long snapper], Sam [Koch, punter] and myself get to go out and put the dagger in the thing is really special," Tucker said. "We love doing that."
Said Harbaugh: "In this league, most games come to three points. We have a great kicker."
Flacco completed a pass Thursday to nine different receivers for the third straight week. …. In behind-the-scenes shots from the Ravens released from team picture day Friday, Campanaro was on his feet moving around. He was seen in a wheelchair after leaving the game with a back injury. … Outside linebacker Jason Babin played seven snaps in his debut. ... With every other NFL team still to play this week, inside linebacker Daryl Smith will be tied for the NFL lead with 34 tackles until Sunday's games begin.