By Joe Platania
PITTSBURGH -- The rain started at about 4:30 p.m.
It brought with it lightning, thunder and hail, as well as a rising tide of belief that the Baltimore Ravens' season is now in serious jeopardy -- if it isn't already over.
The Pittsburgh Steelers used the elements, a milestone anniversary and their home crowd to plow their way to an easy 38-7 win over the beleaguered, banged-up, mistake-prone Ravens.
"I wouldn't begin to know how to characterize this," coach Brian Billick said. "[The coaches] have an easier job of this than the players do. They have to dwell on this for a day and a half and we have to get ready for Cincinnati."
Ed Reed struggled Monday night, recording just one tackle and fumbling on a punt return.
The win raised the Steelers' record to 6-2, giving them a one-game AFC North Division lead over the resurgent Cleveland Browns and two over the 4-4 Ravens. It was also Pittsburgh's 12th straight Monday night home win, and it lifted the Steelers' overall Monday night record in front of their fans to a gaudy 21-5.
The Steelers have also won 22 of their last 28 home games and are 4-0 at home this year.
For the Ravens, the loss -- the second-worst by margin in team history -- was their fourth straight prime time loss and ninth in their last 12 contests. It hearkened back to the most lopsided loss in Ravens lore, a nationally televised, Sunday night, 37-0 loss to the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium in 1997.
More importantly, the Ravens have now lost four of five road games and surpassed their 2006 loss total with division foes Cincinnati and Cleveland looming on the schedule. That’s in addition to the San Diego, New England and Indianapolis death march coming in late November and early December.
Despite getting sacked 14 times by the Ravens last year, Ben Roethlisberger held his own and recorded 5 touchdowns against the Ravens Monday night.
Even with the Ravens' injury and execution troubles, the team statistically should have had a chance to win Monday's game.
The Ravens had the second-best defense in the league, trailing only Pittsburgh's, they were the only team to have allowed fewer than 100 first downs all season, and they were third in average time of possession per game (33:18). The team was ranked second in rush defense, two notches better than Pittsburgh, and they had beaten Pittsburgh three straight times and five of the last seven meetings, including a combined 58-7 sweep last season.
NOT DEEP ENOUGH,
NOT GOOD ENOUGH
But on this nightmarish evening, what doomed the Ravens more than anything else is the fact that even coming off the bye week, they weren't as healthy as they thought they would be, and their replacements weren't nearly as good as they had to be.
The Ravens were slaughtered in every department: first downs (14-5), total yards (291-104), net passing yards (201-40), turnovers committed (4-1) and time of possession (36:15-23:45).
The number of first downs tied a franchise low set in 2000, and the net offensive yards broke the previous record by 20 yards set in a loss at New England three years ago.
The 40 net passing yards was the second fewest in team history.
"We've got to execute better," Billick said. "I've got to call better plays. We've got to come up with the right scheme. But we're certainly not doing what we need to get done."
On top of everything else, the Ravens -- the AFC penalty leaders with 57 before the game -- turned in their third 11-penalty performance of the year and second consecutive, following a similar effort in Buffalo before the bye week.
"You have days like that, I won't try to justify it, I won't try to explain it," Billick said. "You all saw the game. You can't do the things that we did. You just have to move on to the next opponent. That's all you can really do."
As a result, Pittsburgh, a complete team whose offense and defense have both ranked in the top 10 all season long, assumed physical control of the game in a quick eight-minute span late in the first quarter, just as the steady rain turned into driving sheets of misery.
The Steelers forced mistakes and scored touchdowns on short drives of 20, 28 and 36 yards to assume a fast 21-0 lead.
The Pittsburgh defense sacked quarterback Steve McNair five times Monday night and held him to only 63 passing yards.
Even though football is a team game, the Steelers used a two-pronged personal attack on the Ravens with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and linebacker James Harrison.
The first score was set up when Harrison sacked a rolling-out Steve McNair, forced a fumble and recovered it at the Ravens' 20, the start of a big night for the Steelers' third-leading tackler.
Harrison turned in one of the NFL's defensive stat lines of the year with nine tackles (eight solo), 3.5 sacks, six quarterback hits, an interception, a pass breakup, three forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
Two plays later, Roethlisberger evaded Trevor Pryce's rush -- likely hampered by the cast on his broken wrist -- and found tight end Heath Miller in the back of the end zone for a 17-yard touchdown.
Roethlisberger, who left the game in the third quarter with a hip injury and was replaced by Charlie Batch before returning for a series, now has 13 straight games with a touchdown pass, setting a new team record.
"Yeah, he did a great job," Billick said of Roethlisberger. "He had a lot of short fields which certainly helped him, but he took advantage of it."
MCNAIR, OFFENSE STRUGGLE
Meanwhile, the Ravens continue to have no continuity or progress. In turn, they don't have much hope.
McNair was starting his first game since the San Francisco game a month ago, and facing constant pressure from the highest blitzing team in the league, threw an interception and lost two fumbles in the first half.
It was an effort comparative to the desultory Week 1 loss at Cincinnati, in which the 13-year veteran lost three fumbles and threw an interception.
At halftime, McNair had just 16 net yards passing and a 27.7 passer rating to Roethlisberger's nearly perfect 155.1.
In the previous two weeks, the Steelers had allowed Denver's Jay Cutler and Cincinnati's Carson Palmer to record the first 100-rating games against them this year.
But with offensive line, quarterback and wideout injuries, only three Baltimore offensive players, McGahee, wideout Derrick Mason and left guard Jason Brown, have started every game this year.
Not only that, a Steelers team that was held without a sack last week for the first time all season got three in the first half against McNair and added a fourth early in the third quarter.
Appropriately, it was McGahee that got the Ravens on the board, cutting behind right guard Ben Grubbs for a 33-yard touchdown with 1:33 left before halftime. A 52-yard kick return and subsequent 15-yard penalty helped set the Ravens up for their best field position of the day.
McGahee was helped off the field midway through the fourth quarter with a concussion.
At halftime, the Ravens had just three first downs to Pittsburgh's 11 and 69 yards to their hosts' 191. That's on top of the eight penalties, four fumbles (three lost) and the lone interception.
The offense's troubles weren't the only thing hampering the team.
On defense, even a stellar Ravens' unit couldn't do much when constantly backed up against a short field, thanks to offensive turnovers and mistakes.
It certainly wasn't the kind of promising beginning to a stretch run for a team that has traditionally done well in November and December. The Ravens had been 44-22 in those two months, third best in the NFL.
And it all took place in the kind of rain that pelted last year's Super Bowl, a place the Ravens can now only see in their dreams.
Issue 2.45: November 8, 2007