OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Some early season NFL victories are more meaningful than others, especially one within your own division, on the road against your biggest rival.
So, after Ravens coach John Harbaugh insisted Monday that Baltimore had already turned its focus toward its next game, he acknowledged that beating Pittsburgh on Sunday night was pretty darn special.
“It’s a big deal,” Harbaugh declared. “It’s a big deal because the road runs through Pittsburgh the last couple of years to win the division. You start with that.”
Yes, there’s more than one reason why the 26-14 victory was so satisfying to the Ravens (3-1), who moved into a tie with Cincinnati atop the AFC North.
“You have to win division games to win the division. That’s the next thing,” Harbaugh said. “And it’s the Steelers. We hadn’t beaten them three games in a row and three years in a row there. So to go up there and win means a lot to us.”
Pittsburgh has captured the last two AFC North titles and three of the last four, earning a wild-card berth with its second-place finish in 2015.
The Ravens, on the other hand, have gone three straight years without a playoff berth. Perhaps this victory could serve as a step in that direction.
“What a freaking win. Wow,” said safety Eric Weddle, now in his third year with Baltimore. “We talk about all the time: You can’t become a true Raven until you win in Pittsburgh, so I’ve officially become a Raven. What a great team win, from the offense controlling the clock, to making big plays (and) our defense shutting them out in the second half.”
Not to mention solid play by the special teams. Justin Tucker accounted for all the game’s points in the second half after the Steelers rallied from a 14-0 deficit to pull even at halftime.
It all added up to a feel-good victory that made Monday in Baltimore a bit easier to tolerate.
“I’ve heard that the fans are having a great day today,” Harbaugh said. “My wife said she’s out and about, everybody’s talking about the game and everybody’s fired up and happy. Even the people who went to bed at halftime. Look what you missed.”
For those who slept through it, the recap is simple: Baltimore held the ball for 21 ½ minutes, limited the Steelers to three first downs and did not allow Pittsburgh to get past midfield.
With one-quarter of the season over with, it’s hard to determine the Ravens’ identity. At times, they’ve been an offensive powerhouse, at other times a defensive steamroller.
Joe Flacco threw for 363 yards and two touchdowns against the Steelers and now has eight TD passes compared to a pair of interceptions. The defense, meanwhile, hasn’t given up a touchdown in the second half.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith returned to the team Monday and will practice this week after serving a four-game suspension from the NFL for using performance enhancers.
“Rumor has it he got here at 8 o’clock,” Harbaugh said. “He did not beat me in, for the record, but he was here and he’s been working out. We’re expecting him to practice Wednesday.”
The Ravens expect Smith will be ready for Sunday’s road game against Cleveland (1-2-1).
“If he’s in shape and if he practices well and looks like he can go,” Harbaugh said.
Baltimore also hopes to have tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Willie Henry (abdomen).
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