In a collision of AFC North leaders, the Ravens got totaled.
In search of a measuring stick, they were clobbered by a black-and-gold two-by-four.
Falling apart early and late, the Ravens were outclassed in a 31-18 drubbing by the Pittsburgh Steelers yesterday at Ravens Stadium.
Playing without ailing quarterback Chris Redman and linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens (3-4) had insult added to their mounting injuries, falling behind 28-3 just 25 minutes into the game. The Ravens surrendered touchdowns on their first four defensive series and flopped in their last-ditch comeback by turning the ball over on their last three possessions.
"Our guys got schooled in the first half," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "They found out how far they have to go. ... I'm not going to spend much time on the first half of that game, because all I'm going to see is 11 guys kick the s--- out of 11 other guys. It's not a whole lot to do schematically. It was just one-on-one, you kicked his ass. ...
"In the second half, I'm going to see some guys settle down, do their jobs and play the way they're capable of playing. That's what we're going to focus on."
The breakdowns were out of character and knocked the Ravens out of first place, dropping them into third in the division.
The fourth-least-penalized team this season, the Ravens were flagged 13 times for 100 yards. After giving up the ball 10 times in six games, the Ravens tripped themselves up with five turnovers.
And their defense, which had given up a total of two touchdowns the past two weeks, folded as Pittsburgh opened the game with touchdown drives of 68, 80, 15 and 49 yards.
"We didn't play with intensity," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "We made a lot of mistakes. We didn't come out like we should in the first half, and it showed up.
"We got to know that if you want to be good and win in this league, you have beat teams like Pittsburgh. We have got a ways to go."
The Steelers (4-3), who hold a half-game lead over the second-place Cleveland Browns, won in their sixth straight trip to town and don't want the Ravens to forget about it.
"We manhandled them today," Steelers outside linebacker Joey Porter said. "I hope they don't like that. They've got to live with that for about eight weeks [until the Dec. 29 rematch]. You want to do that to a team like Baltimore in a rivalry like this. I hope this will stick with them for a long time."
On Pittsburgh's winning streak in Baltimore, Ravens left guard Edwin Mulitalo said, "It hurts deep."
After Amos Zereoue's 35-yard touchdown run put the Steelers ahead 7-0, the Ravens responded immediately behind quarterback Jeff Blake, who was replacing Redman (leg numbness) on one days' notice.
It appeared that the Ravens had moved to the Steelers' 15-yard line on a 24-yard pass from Blake to Todd Heap. But tight end John Jones was flagged for slamming Porter, who was trying to get to Blake with an inside stunt.
The holding penalty moved the Ravens back to their 49 and stalled the series.
"It happened; you can't cry about it," Jones said. "I didn't have to take him to the ground. It's Pittsburgh, and I don't like them. Too much extra cost me."
The Steelers then rolled behind Tommy Maddox, who completed his first 11 passes and finished 18 of 24 for 172 yards. He hit Plaxico Burress for a 20-yard touchdown pass despite tight coverage by Chris McAlister and then found Burress again for a 9-yard score.
That staked Pittsburgh to a 21-0 lead with seven seconds left in the first quarter. Falling behind is trouble against the Steelers, who are 71-1 under coach Bill Cowher when they build a lead of more than 10 points.
"You got to understand that in this league you have to show up for the first 15 minutes," Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden said.
After the deficit grew to 28-3 by halftime, Blake rallied the Ravens with an 18-yard touchdown pass and then ran in a score from 1 yard out. His 12th career rushing touchdown closed the margin to 31-18 with 11:11 left in the game.
But the Ravens stumbled after that with a fumble and two interceptions in the final three series.
Jamal Lewis' fumble - his fourth in five games - occurred at the Steelers' 31-yard line.
"I was trying to make something happen," Lewis said. "That's my main focus now. I really have to control the ball and think about it when I have the ball in my hands."
Blake then closed out the game by throwing two interceptions in his last three passes.
"I think I forced it when I should have thrown the ball away," said Blake, who was 29 of 50 for 298 yards.
Said Mulitalo: "If we had to make a comeback, it had to be perfect. And we were far from perfect."
Redman will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging exam today and Ray Lewis may be held out of next week's game against the Atlanta Falcons on artificial turf. With the prospect of being without their leaders on offense and defense for another week, the Ravens find themselves with a tough road ahead and a painful loss to forget.
"We were riding high the last couple of weeks," safety Will Demps said. "This is kind of a slap in the face."
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