BALTIMORE – Many wondered if the Baltimore Ravens were resilient enough to overcome the distraction of losing Ray Rice and the emotional stress caused by his release from the team.
The Ravens weren't among the doubters.
Playing a pivotal divisional game three days after the release of the star running back, Baltimore (1-1) got a pair of touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and rolled past the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6 on Thursday night.
"We've been through a lot together," Flacco said. "No matter what it is, I think we're a team that tends to group together through tough times. I never had a doubt that we (would) be able to come out here and go get a win tonight."
Rice was reaching the end of a two-game suspension for domestic violence when a video of him striking his then-fiancee surfaced Monday. By the end of the day, the three-time Pro Bowler had been cut by Baltimore and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
"We had a tough family situation this week," coach John Harbaugh said. "I thought our guys handled it tremendously — with class, with character. They responded."
Pittsburgh (1-1) finished with only 22 fewer yards than Baltimore, but the turnovers made the difference. One Steelers miscue halted their opening drive, another set up a fourth-quarter field goal by Tucker, and an interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger with 1:51 remaining ended any hope.
Some things we learned about the Ravens and Steelers:
SOME FANS STILL LOVE RICE: Many Ravens fans threw away or swapped their No. 27 Ray Rice jerseys for pizza or $10 bar tabs after the video was released. But some wore them Thursday night to show their support for the embattled running back.
Debby Nash was wearing a No. 55 Terrell Suggs jersey while standing outside the players' parking lot before the game. In her view, the Ravens and the NFL were too harsh on Rice.
"It was political, everyone protecting themselves," she said. "If I had a Ray Rice jersey, I'd have worn it tonight."
RAVENS LOVE RICE, TOO: Rice was gone, but will never be forgotten by his teammates.
"He's still a great guy," wide receiver Torrey Smith said. "Take away those two minutes of his life and he's a model citizen. He's a great person."
Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said: "Even though he messed up, every man got to go through their mistakes to get better. We wish him the best, but as a team we've just got to keep moving forward."
LIMITED MOBILITY: The Steelers had only occasional bursts of sustained offense. Roethlisberger said the problem was mainly on first down, when Pittsburgh frequently didn't get big enough gains and put themselves in second-and-long situations.
On their initial eight first downs, the Steelers gained a total of 17 yards.
"First down, we just kept getting behind the chains and we can't do that," Roethlisberger said.
FLAG DAY: Penalties continued to plague the Steelers, who were whistled for 75 yards on nine infractions, including two unnecessary roughness calls in the span of three plays on a Baltimore scoring drive in the third quarter.
Last week, it was 11 flags for 96 yards. Head coach Mike Tomlin is tired of seeing yellow fluttering through the air.
Add in the three turnovers, and it's a recipe for disaster.
"A lot of the self-inflicted wounds are going to prevent you from being in a football game like that," Tomlin said. "We turned the ball over too often (and) were highly penalized, particularly on the drives that they were able to manufacture and produce points."
RARE BLOWOUT: Nine of the previous 10 games between these AFC North rivals had been decided by three points or fewer. This one was a relative rout.
"We've only played a couple where they haven't been tight all the way," Flacco said. "And even this one, not until the very end did you feel very comfortable."
Steelers rookie Ryan Shazier said, "That was probably one of the more physical games I've ever played in my life. I can't wait until we get our second chance to play them."
Notes: Ravens CB Asa Jackson left with a concussion. ... Pittsburgh WR Antonio Brown left briefly with a head injury but returned. Steelers NT Steve McLendon left with a shoulder injury. ... Ravens P Sam Koch set the franchise record by playing in his 130th consecutive game.
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