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Big Ben sacked nine times, Steelers blanked by Ravens

BALTIMORE (AP) -- While sacking Ben Roethlisberger nine times,
the Baltimore Ravens smothered almost any chance the Pittsburgh Steelers had of successfully defending their Super Bowl title.

The Ravens yielded only 36 yards in the decisive first half
Sunday and coasted to their fifth straight victory, a 27-0 blowout
that left the Steelers with only a mathematical chance of reaching
the playoffs.

It was Pittsburgh's most lopsided defeat since a 37-7 whipping
by Dallas in the 1997 season opener.

"A very pitiful performance out there today," Steelers coach
Bill Cowher said. "Where we go from here is we've got to line up
and play this thing out. It starts next week."

Baltimore (9-2) leads Pittsburgh (4-7) in the AFC North by five
games with five to play.

"It's the next step," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "It's
against a championship-caliber organization. They have a Super Bowl
ring, a number of them, and we can feel very good about it."

The Steelers had won two straight following a 2-6 start, but
their resurgence was emphatically squelched by the hated Ravens,
who got all the points they needed with a touchdown on their
opening possession.

The nine sacks, which totaled 73 yards and matched a Ravens
franchise record, included a vicious hit by Bart Scott that forced
Roethlisberger out of the game in the second quarter. The
quarterback missed only one play, but for the rest of the afternoon
he was harassed by a relentless rush.

"They got after it. You can't get mad at the line; they did a
good job," Roethlisberger said. "There were so many things they
had to pick up."

After a while, the only thing Roethlisberger could do was duck.

"We do what we always do. We just did a little bit more of
it," said Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had six tackles
and two sacks. "It came from different places that we don't
usually do."

It was the second time this year that the Steelers were shut
out; the last time Pittsburgh was blanked at least twice in a
season was in 1989.

"You got a rivalry game and they don't score, you not only send
a message for the next time you play them, you send a message to
the next team you play," Suggs said.

Four of the Steelers' first six drives ended in three-and-outs.
The seventh concluded with a sack by Corey Ivy that resulted in a
fumble that Baltimore's Adalius Thomas returned 57 yards for a
touchdown. It gave the Ravens a 24-0 lead with 4:46 left in the
third quarter.

Roethlisberger went 21-for-41 for 214 yards and two
interceptions. Willie Parker got only 15 yards rushing in the first
half and finished with 22.

Baltimore led 17-0 at halftime after limiting Pittsburgh to
three first downs. Steve McNair spent most of the second half
handing off the ball after going 13-for-17 for 121 yards and a
touchdown in the opening 30 minutes.

McNair was 18-for-24 for 140 yards before being replaced by Kyle
Boller with just over 10 minutes to play.

Jamal Lewis ran for 66 yards and a touchdown, and Todd Heap had
seven catches for 58 yards and a score.

Baltimore is 5-0 since Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim
Fassel and began calling the plays himself. The offense was
impressive, but the key to the blowout was a defense that welcomed
back middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed the previous two games
with a back injury.

Lewis was credited with six tackles, including a sack.

"It's just great to have 52 back," defensive coordinator Rex
Ryan said. "He just energized the whole team."

The Ravens set the tone on their opening drive, moving 56 yards
in six plays for a 7-0 lead. McNair went 4-for-4 for 51 yards,
including a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Heap.

While the Steelers struggled offensively, Baltimore gained
favorable field position through a series of punts and began its
fourth drive on the Pittsburgh 47. Eight plays later, Jamal Lewis
pounded in from the 1 to make it 14-0.

Later in the second quarter, Scott zipped around left end
untouched and flattened Roethlisberger with a driving hit to the
chest. The quarterback lay prone for several minutes before finally
walking off the field on his own.

"That's probably the hardest I've ever been hit in my life. I
didn't see the guy coming," Roethlisberger said. "He hit me
clean, hit me front side and I just kind of remember my head
hitting the ground.'

Charlie Batch entered for one play, a 10-yard completion to
Parker on a third-and-16.

Game notes
Ravens LB Dan Cody left in the first quarter with a knee
strain. ... Pittsburgh SS Troy Polamalu also hurt his knee. In his postgame news conference, Cowher called the injury a "significant" knee injury...
Baltimore had nine sacks vs Philadelphia in 1997.