BALTIMORE -- It has been a long time since the Steelers lost an opener, a long, long time since they were so thoroughly crushed in any game as they were Sunday to the Baltimore Ravens, 35-7 at M&T Bank Stadium.
The Ravens said they waited eight months for this and they burst in a wave of turnovers, points and emotion as they tried to make up for blowing that 14-point lead at Heinz Field in a divisional playoff loss in January.
"It's a great victory," said Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, whose euphoria got the better of him while he urged on the crowd while flapping his arms up and down on the sideline in the second half. "The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back -- that's not real to us. It's a football game."
At least one team played one.
The Ravens recovered a franchise-record seven turnovers after the Steelers went through four preseason games without committing one. They intercepted quarterback Ben Roethlisberger three times and forced him to fumble three times if they count the handoff to Rashard Mendenhall that never
made it there. Mewelde Moore lost the other fumble. Three of the turnovers came inside Baltimore's 20.
That's not all. Ray Rice became the first back to rush for 100 yards against the Steelers since ... Ray Rice. He had 107 yards on 19 carries Sunday, 141 on 30 carries on Dec. 27, 2009.
That's not all. Terrell Suggs had three of Baltimore's four sacks, forcing two Roethlisberger fumbles. Ed Reed intercepted him twice and dropped a third. It was a wonder Roethlisberger earned a passer rating at all (52.9).
That's not all.
"They whupped us," Casey Hampton said. "They didn't beat us, they whupped us. I don't ever remember getting whupped like this since I've been here. It was embarrassing the way we got beat. And it's not that it was the first game. It was the first game for them, too."
The Steelers hadn't lost a first game in the previous eight, and this was their worst beating since Dallas scorched them, 37-7, to start the 1997 season (they reached the AFC championship game by the end of that season, if the Steelers are looking to find any comfort Sunday in their result). As beat-downs to Baltimore go, it matched their two losses to the Ravens in 2006 by a combined 58-7.
"My rookie year we did it twice, so I knew it was possible," Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata said.
And by the time the game was over, the Ravens weren't finished. They kept rubbing it in the Steelers wounds.
"We know it's Week 1," Rice said. "It's not the playoffs, but that playoff taste [from January], now that's over. They beat us in the playoffs, all right. They're not the Super Bowl champs. The reigning champ is the Green Bay Packers, so now it's time. We've got that burden off our shoulders, we're one up on them right now and that's how we have to approach this."
Joe Flacco exorcized some of those ghosts his coach mentioned. He completed 17 of 29, throwing three touchdown passes (to Anquan Boldin, Rice and Ed Dickson) and beat Roethlisberger for the first time in his career.
This one was never really close. Baltimore jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead, gave up an 11-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders in the second quarter, then ran out to a 21-7 halftime lead. If that sounds familiar, it was the same score in which Baltimore led at Heinz Field in January only to blow it.
They didn't blow it this time. The Steelers would not let them.
"Everybody was saying, 'We've been here before,'" linebacker Ray Lewis said of the atmosphere Sunday at halftime in his locker room. "And I was like, 'We haven't been here before because 2010 is 2010, and 2011 is a whole new year.'"
Any thought of a comeback by the Steelers was squashed on the first two plays of the second half. Ngata blew up a Roethlisberger handoff to Mendenhall and recovered the fumble on the first play. On the second, Rice caught a short little pass in the flat from Flacco and beat linebacker Lawrence Timmons to the left corner of the end zone.
Then Harbaugh rubbed it in by having his holder on the place-kick, Sam Koch, take the snap and run up the middle instead for 2 points and a 29-7 lead.
On the next play, the Steelers turned it over again when Lewis intercepted Roethlisberger's short pass over the middle. Two plays, two turnovers. It set the stage for the entire second half when the Steelers lost the ball on fumbles or interceptions to end six of their first seven series (their eighth ended when the clock mercifully hit 0:00).
There were two highlights for the Steelers worth a quick mention among the rubble, one on offense and one on defense. Mike Wallace led them with eight receptions and 107 yards. Ike Taylor and his broken left thumb covered new Ravens receiver Lee Evans all over the field without allowing a catch.
Oh, and Daniel Sepulveda averaged 52.8 yards on four punts.
"We got whipped in every facet of the game," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said, using a word heard often Sunday in their locker room. "They were the more physical team, the more aggressive team. They were the team more technically sound. They were the better football team."
Ben Roethlisberger is sacked by the Ravens Jarret Johnson in the first half
For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette on the Steelers at www.post-gazette.com/plus . Ed Bouchette: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @EdBouchette. First Published September 12, 2011 4:00 AM