September 11, 2011
If you wanted any proof that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens have the NFL's best rivalry going these days, the general tone of the season opener for both teams — which ended in a 35-7 laugher in Baltimore's favor — should reveal the truth. These two teams don't like each other at all. There were several fights through the game, and some hits on both sides that will most likely result in fines from the league office.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin lost his cool on the sideline at one point (a very rare occurrence), and here's Ravens head coach John Harbaugh going absolutely ballistic after defensive end Corey Redding was flagged for a questionable roughness penalty in the fourth quarter.
This was the first time a Ravens team led by Joe Flacco(notes) beat a team led by Ben Roethlisberger(notes), and it wasn't even close. Roethlisberger threw three picks, while Flacco threw three touchdowns. The Steelers had as many giveaways as points, and the Ravens' front seven harassed Big Ben non-stop.
But the real difference for the Ravens was the dynamism of their offense. Running back Ray Rice(notes) was his usual outstanding self, rushing for 107 yards on 19 carries, and catching four passes for 42 yards. Flacco didn't throw a pick. Anquan Boldin(notes) led all Ravens receivers with four catches for 74 yards and a touchdown. New receiver Lee Evans(notes) didn't get a catch on four targets, but he showed his value in his ability to be a deep threat, drawing coverage from the intermediate areas and making throws to Boldin and the tight ends easier.
Most of the Steelers-Ravens games over the last few seasons have been very close, and most of them have gone in Pittsburgh's favor. That Baltimore was able to make such a statement Sunday is something they've been trying to do for years.
For the moment, at least, the balance of power in the AFC North resides in Baltimore.
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