BALTIMORE – In the annual duel for supremacy between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, Round 1 this year goes to the Ravens.
No one on either side would be surprised if the decisive matchup occurs months from now — in the playoffs.
The Ravens forced a team-record seven turnovers Sunday and rolled to a 35-7 season-opening victory. Baltimore took an early 14-0 lead and cruised to its most lopsided win in the history of the rivalry, but all that means is that the Ravens lead the Steelers by one game in the AFC North with 15 to play.
"That's a heck of a football team. I guarantee you they will be back," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said of the Steelers. "So we'll see them again."
The next Steelers-Ravens game is slated for Nov. 6 in Pittsburgh.
Much can happen before then.
"It's one win, although it's a big one against our divisional rival," Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We're going to see them again in eight weeks. We got to keep stepping on the gas."
There's no guarantee the rivalry will be put on hold after Nov. 6. After all, these teams have met in the postseason in two of the last three years, so who's to say it won't happen again?
The Ravens sure looked like a playoff team on Sunday. The Steelers, not so much.
"We got beat into submission," linebacker James Farrior said.
Pittsburgh won eight straight openers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was unbeaten in his last seven starts against Baltimore, but both streaks ended in hideous fashion.
Roethlisberger was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.
"I need to play a lot better. It's the first one, first game of the year," he said. "I grabbed our offense at the end and just talked to them and said the season's not won or lost today, the division's not won or lost. We just dug ourself a little hole. We'll be all right. We'll learn and we'll come back stronger than ever."
Very little went right for Big Ben, who entered the game with a career-high run of 158 passes without an interception.
"It hurts so much to lose (but) it's hard not to chuckle at some of the things," he said. "Tipped balls at the line of scrimmage getting intercepted, balls coming out, fumbles, just everything didn't go our way."
Baltimore, on the other hand, was darn near perfect.
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes, Haloti Ngata had a hand in three turnovers and Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and scored twice.
It was a rematch of a second-round playoff game in January, when the Steelers rallied to beat Baltimore 31-24.
That day, the Ravens let a 21-7 halftime lead evaporate with three turnovers in the third quarter. At halftime of this one, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis spoke loudly in the locker room after his teammates compared the two games.
"They were saying, 'We've been here before,'" Lewis said. "No, we haven't been here before. This is a whole new year."
This time, the Ravens got three takeaways in the third to turn a 21-7 advantage into a rout.
Ngata was the driving force, causing a fumble and deflecting a pass that produced an interception. Ed Reed also picked off two passes for the Ravens, who mercilessly harassed Roethlisberger.
"I guess they were waiting for this one," the quarterback said.
Both sides can't wait for the next one.
"Obviously we have a lot of work to do. We didn't stop those guys enough," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said.
"We're one up on them now right now, and that's how we've got to approach this," Rice said. "It's always a slugfest with them, and Lord knows what's going to happen later in the year."