Steelers roll behind Big Ben's 5 TD passes
Fans waved Terrible Towels and snapped pictures as members of the Steelers' All-Time team were introduced at halftime Monday night at Heinz Field.
It's a wonder they were able to cheer as loud as they did for franchise favorites such as "Mean" Joe Greene, Terry Bradshaw and Jerome Bettis.
That's because they had every reason to be hoarse following a first half in which the Steelers utterly dominated the Baltimore Ravens and shifted the balance of power in the AFC North.
Ben Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes before halftime, and James Harrison played as if someone had mailed him the Ravens' offensive game plan and enclosed a note questioning his manhood for good measure.
With those two having career games, the Steelers built a five-touchdown lead and coasted to a 38-7 win in front of a rain-soaked crowd of 63,457, as well as a national TV audience.
The victory gave the Steelers (6-2) a two-game lead over the Ravens, the defending division champion, in the AFC North.
"Those two guys were spectacular," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Roethlisberger and Harrison. "But I don't want to devalue the team effort."
The tensest moment for the Steelers last night came midway through the third quarter when Roethlisberger stayed down with a hip pointer after Baltimore's Terrell Suggs pushed him and he landed awkwardly on his hip.
Charlie Batch finished the series and played another before Roethlisberger jogged back onto the field, if a little gingerly, to trigger the Steelers' offense early in the fourth quarter.
"He was fine to go back out there," Tomlin said.
After the Steelers went three-and-out, Tomlin took Roethlisberger out of the game for good.
He earned an early exit after completing 13-of-16 passes for 209 yards and compiling a perfect passer rating of 158.3.
Roethlisberger and the rest of the starters, many of whom also watched most of the fourth quarter, should be well-rested for Sunday when the Steelers host the Cleveland Browns.
The game will be another key one for the Steelers. Cleveland is 5-3 and just one game out of first place in the division.
Roethlisberger threw four touchdowns in the Steelers' 34-7 win in Cleveland on Sept. 9, and he needed a little less than two quarters last night to set a career high in that category and tie a team record held by Bradshaw and Mark Malone.
In the first 30 minutes, Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes apiece to wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington and another to tight end Heath Miller.
While picking apart Baltimore's proud defense, Roethlisberger served notice that he is a different quarterback than the one the Ravens sacked 14 times last season and limited to one touchdown pass in two games.
"They'll be disappointed," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of his players. "They're going to be embarrassed. We all are."
As well as Roethlisberger played, Harrison was just as dominant on the other side of the ball.
In the first half, Harrison had 2 1⁄2 sacks, three forced fumbles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
He finished with 3 1⁄2 sacks, giving him a team-leading 6 1⁄2.
"It's a little more satisfying," Harrison said, "because it's Baltimore. I would hope it's just a start."
The right outside linebacker set the tone for the Steelers on the Ravens' first possession. He appeared to overrun Steve McNair on a blitz, but Harrison recovered and chased down the Ravens' quarterback. His helmet knocked the ball free when McNair hit it while winding up for a pass, and Harrison recovered the fumble at the Ravens' 20-yard line.
That gave him an impressive hat trick on the play, as he was also credited with a sack and a forced fumble.
After two Willie Parker runs netted 3 yards, Roethlisberger threw a 17-yard touchdown pass to Miller.
Later in the first quarter, Harrison belted Ed Reed during a punt return, and the ball popped into the air and landed in the arms of Lawrence Timmons.
Five plays later, Roethlisberger split a couple of defenders with a dart that turned into a 15-yard touchdown pass to Holmes.
The Steelers never looked back.