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Steelers Steelers muffle motor-mouthed Ravens with big-play offense, smothering defense

Monday, September 08, 2003

By Ed Bouchette, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

So, this is what a fast start looks like?

Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell gets an escort from Clark Haggans on a 42-yard interception return to set up a first-quarter field goal yesterday. (Peter Diana, Post-Gazette photos)
Click photo for larger image.

The Steelers hadn't had this much fun in a home opener in 18 years, and few starts to any season gave them more satisfaction than yesterday's 34-15 trashing of the Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field.

The Ravens angered them all week with their boasts and their taunts, and then All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis confronted injured Steelers linebacker Joey Porter in the pregame warm-ups, setting the tone for the day.

Porter, out with a gunshot wound he received Aug. 31, strolled onto the field before the game. Lewis walked up to him, taunted him by kicking his right foot in Porter's patented "boot" celebration and told Porter he owned "this house."

"It was kind of stupid for him to do that," Porter said. "I'm still recovering from a bullet wound and you're imitating me? He got exactly what he was looking for, a beating. He made one tackle and he got up and did the 'boot' like he did something. Dude, you're getting blown out right now, and it happened all day."

Indeed, the Steelers won their first opener in four years, their first home opener in eight years and they piled up their largest margin of victory in a home opener since they throttled Indianapolis, 45-3, in 1985.

 
 
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Game One: Sept. 7 Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens

   
 

That it all came against the Ravens, perceived as the biggest threat to their supremacy in the AFC North, added to their gratification.

"This was a good way to start the season," coach Bill Cowher said. "It was a divisional opponent that a lot of people picked to win our division."

The game was never close as the Steelers took a 27-0 lead late into the third quarter. Their first two drives fell short when Jeff Reed kicked field goals of 29 and 31 yards, but they pulled away in the next two periods. Hines Ward caught touchdown passes of 4 and 28 yards from Tommy Maddox, who also threw a 20-yard scoring pass to tight end Jay Riemersma.

Jamal Lewis saved face for Baltimore when he ran for a 14-yard touchdown late in the third quarter. Amos Zereoue took a pitch and ran 8 yards for the Steelers' final touchdown before Travis Taylor scored for Baltimore on a 5-yard pass from rookie quarterback Kyle Boller.

"They talked about their defensive team and 'we're going to shut you out' and I was like, you can't be talking about the team I'm playing against right now," Plaxico Burress said.

Burress and Ward picked things right back up from last year, when they led the NFL in receiving yardage as a pair and ranked third in catches. Burress caught six passes for 116 yards and Ward caught nine passes for 91 yards and his two touchdowns.

Maddox completed 21 of 29 passes for 260 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and a gaudy 134.3 passer rating.

The only problem the Steelers had was running the ball. Zereoue led them with 56 yards and they managed only 98 as a team with a 3-yard average.

Other than that, the game was as perfect as the weather.

"This team and this offense can do whatever we want to do," said Riemersma, who joined them this year as a free agent and won the starting job at tight end.

It was easy pickings, to some extent, on defense for the Steelers because Boller became the first rookie quarterback to start against them since John Elway did so in 1983. Boller completed 22 of 43 passes for 152 yards, one touchdown, one interception, two sacks and a poor 57.5 passer rating.

Lewis, a 1,300-yard rusher last season, managed only 69 yards.

"We just didn't come out and play very good," Boller said. "You've got to give them credit, they played a great game. They really took us out of what we wanted to do."

Reed ended the first two Steelers drives with field goals, the second coming after linebacker Kendrell Bell made his first NFL interception and returned it 42 yards. The two failures in the red zone brought back recent memories.

"You start to get that feeling," Cowher said, "that if they keep hanging around, they are only one big play away from being right back into it."

Soon, the Ravens were hanging by their necks.

Burress loosened them up late in the second quarter when he ran deep and caught a 47-yard pass from Maddox to Baltimore's 8-yard-line. Two plays later, Ward beat safety Gary Baxter to catch a 4-yard pass in the left rear corner of the end zone for a 13-0 Steelers lead.

They put the game away with two touchdowns in the third quarter.

Burress snatched a great throw from Maddox between two defensive backs on third-and-9 to keep their first drive going, and Zereoue took a pitch 12 yards around left end on fourth-and-1 to the Ravens' 20. On the next play, Riemersma beat safety Ed Reed by a good 10 yards down the middle to easily catch Maddox's touchdown pass for a 20-0 lead.

"He's going to create so many more opportunities for me and Hines," Burress said. "He's one of those guys who can really catch a lot of balls in this offense and score touchdowns."

If Riemersma was wide open for his score, Ward was open wider six minutes later. Lewis fumbled when Bell hit him, and Jason Gildon recovered for the Steelers at Baltimore's 28.

On first down, Ward streaked past Baxter and no one was within 15 yards of him when he caught Maddox's pass in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown and a 27-0 lead.

"Jay took care of the safety, ran a great route," Ward said, "and I double-moved the cornerback. He bit on the first move I gave him. All I was saying is don't drop the ball. Easy touchdowns are hard to come by, so I just didn't want to drop the ball."

Steelers linebacker Kendrell Bell sacks Ravens rookie quarterback Kyle Boller yesterday.
Click photo for larger image.

For the first time since 1999, the Steelers did not drop the ball in their opener. They kept up the pressure and except for three penalties against their cornerbacks on one drive, and a lost fumble, Baltimore might never have scored.

The Ravens ended the whitewash after Chad Scott was called for holding and Dewayne Washington was called for two pass interference penalties totaling 57 yards. Of the 80 yards in Baltimore's touchdown drive that ended with Lewis running 14 yards untouched up the middle, 60 came on those three penalties.

Baltimore's final touchdown came after Verron Haynes fumbled from his 9 and nose tackle Kelly Gregg recovered at the 2. Boller threw his first NFL touchdown pass on third down from the 5 to Taylor.

The game was long out of hand by then, but it did not cool the animosity between the two division rivals.

"It was amazing," Burress said. "The game was like 30-14 and they're still hollering about 'you [stink]' and all this. After a while it's comical, it's funny."

Porter said the Steelers had the last laugh.

"We're a better football team than they are. Whether they want to face it or not. It was total domination out there today, physically and point-wise. It was pathetic. We beat them bad. They were trying to make it look respectable, but it wasn't respectable."


Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.

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