PITTSBURGH (AP)—On a day filled with mismatches, the biggest of all might have been Tommy Maddox against a Ravens defense supposedly among the NFL’s best.
Maddox threw three touchdowns passes, two to Hines Ward, and Pittsburgh’s defense roughed up Baltimore rookie quarterback Kyle Boller in his NFL debut, a 34-15 Steelers victory Sunday that wasn’t that close.
Maddox, making his first season-opening start 11 years after being Denver’s first-round draft pick, was everything Boller wasn’t: decisive, accurate and effective in picking on the defense’s mistakes. Maddox went 21-of-29 for 260 yards and didn’t throw an interception, something he did only once in 11 starts last season.
“Tommy was as confident as can be and was winging it the way he can,” offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey said.
The Steelers won their opener for the first time since 1999 and only the fifth time since coach Bill Cowher was hired in 1992. They also won their fifth straight against Baltimore.
Pittsburgh was without Joey Porter, the All-Pro linebacker shot last weekend in Denver, but Baltimore was mostly without an offense. Boller had a predictable performance in his first game—predictably bad.
He was intercepted by Kendrell Bell on Baltimore’s first possession, setting up the second of Jeff Reed’s field goals, and it didn’t get much better from there. The former Cal star went 22-of-42 for 152 yards, with almost all the yardage coming after the outcome was decided.
“It was definitely a lot faster than the preseason. I could tell that right away,” Boller said. “There were definitely some times I could have moved the chains if I hadn’t made some mistakes.”
That wasn’t Maddox’s problem. On Ward’s second touchdown catch, a 28-yarder that made it 27-0, Maddox noticed right away that Ward shed his coverage. Maddox hit him in stride with no defender in sight.
“He made a great move at the line, but I thought I was missing something,” Maddox said. “I didn’t think he could get that wide open.”
Before that, Maddox repeatedly found Plaxico Burress for big yardage, setting up each of Pittsburgh’s first three scores. A 47-yarder gave the Steelers a first down at the 8 late and Ward made a 4-yard touchdown catch two plays later for a 13-0 halftime lead.
Burress had six catches for 116 yards and Ward had nine for 91 yards.
“When you make little mistakes against a team like Pittsburgh, they can turn it into something big,” Baltimore’s Peter Boulware said. “And we made a lot of small mistakes.”
Ravens defensive star Ray Lewis, returning after missing most of last season with a shoulder injury, said, “If Pittsburgh beat us, I can take it, but to play like this …”
The Ravens didn’t move the ball inside the Pittsburgh 37 until late in the third quarter. Two lengthy pass interference penalties on Dewayne Washington led to Jamal Lewis’ 14-yard scoring run. Boller didn’t complete a pass on the 65-yard drive.
“Any time you’re going against a young guy, you want to keep him confused and off-balance,” the Steelers’ Jason Gildon said.
“We gave them both of their touchdowns,” Burress said.
Still, Boller didn’t get much help. Star tight end Todd Heap was limited to 55 yards on six catches; he had 146 yards receiving in Pittsburgh’s come-from-behind 34-31 victory on Dec. 29. Jamal Lewis was held to 69 yards after running for 1,327 yards last season.
Just as in the preseason, the Steelers did not paint any logos on their new, plastic-fortified grass field. … The Steelers’ Amos Zereoue had 56 yards and a touchdown in his first season-opening start. Jerome Bettis, now the backup, had 14 yards on four carries before leaving with a groin injury not believed serious. … Corey Fuller, signed away from the Browns, left late with a strained quadriceps. … Ward moved into third place on the Steelers’ career receiving list with 339 catches, one more than Hall of Famer Lynn Swann. … Ina surprise move, the Steelers deactivated former starting TE Mark Bruener.