Over The Top The Steelers smacked down the defending Super Bowl champs by playing defense the way the Ravens used to and offense the way they never could

January 28, 2002

They'd heard it all before. Nonetheless, as the Pittsburgh
Steelers' defensive players listened to their fiery coordinator,
Tim Lewis, review his game plan last Saturday night, they lapped
up every word. Having dominated the Baltimore Ravens' offense
twice during the regular season (though the teams split the
games), everyone in the unit knew the drill, chapter and verse:
Stuff the run, exploit Baltimore's shaky offensive line and
force quarterback Elvis Grbac to win the game with his arm.
"Good quarterback, good pocket presence," Lewis recited, "but
when you get to him, make sure you brush him. He doesn't like to
be hit." On the last point the players barked their approval. It
was, Lewis recalled, "like dangling the meat right in front of
them."

Indeed, during Pittsburgh's 27-10 walloping of Baltimore in
their AFC divisional playoff on Sunday at Heinz Field, the
Steelers' defenders acted like a pack of wild dogs. Consider
their rapacious performance in the first half. Led by a sublime
quartet of ball-hawking linebackers, the Steelers went after
Grbac like orcs after Frodo. When Grbac wasn't sacked or knocked
down, he hurried one poor throw after another, completing eight
of 16 passes for 72 yards while flinging two ugly
interceptions--the first on the game's third play, the second on
second-and-goal from the Pittsburgh 11-yard line late in the
first quarter, while the Ravens trailed 10-0.

Not surprisingly, Pittsburgh--the NFL's regular-season leader in
total defense and rushing defense--never permitted Baltimore's
supposedly revitalized rushing attack to find its rhythm. The
Ravens gained 13 yards on nine carries in the first half. More
shocking was watching Baltimore's celebrated defense get pounded
into submission by a Steelers offense that was missing bruising
running back Jerome Bettis, who couldn't play because a pregame
painkilling injection in his strained groin had left his right
leg numb.

Even without the Bus, the Steelers rushed for 98 yards on 22
carries in the first half, led by backup Amos Zereoue.
Meanwhile, quarterback Kordell Stewart completed eight of 11
passes for 83 yards. (He would finish an efficient 12 of 22 for
154 yards and a touchdown.) The Steelers sped to a 20-0 lead in
the second quarter, and the game was over.

How to explain Pittsburgh's mastery of the only half that
mattered? In a word, defense. Baltimore didn't pick up a first
down until 2:50 was left in the second quarter. The Steelers
outgained the Ravens 175 yards to 73, held the ball for more
than 19 minutes and had no penalties or punts. After a week of
mild trash-talking between the two teams, Pittsburgh made it
clear that the league's baddest defense no longer wears purple.
"The Ravens feel they can bully you, and they scare a lot of
teams, but not us," says Steelers outside linebacker Joey
Porter. "All that cockiness and attitude--blah, blah, blah. We
got sick of seeing their interviews. How can they say they've
got the best defense? They can't, because we do."

It was the brash Porter who lit Pittsburgh's fire, first in
pregame warmups, when he had to be separated from mountainous
Baltimore defensive tackle Sam Adams, and again only 1:27 into
the game, when he fell to the ground after hurdling Ravens
fullback Obafemi Ayanbadejo, scrambled to his feet and tipped a
Grbac pass that quacked its way into the hands of cornerback
Chad Scott. "After that first pick, you could see Elvis was
rattled," says Porter, who finished with six tackles and a sack.
"He started looking for our blitzes and stopped going through
his progressions."

Said Steelers safety Lee Flowers, "You could see it in [Grbac's]
eyes--he freaked out. By the end he was dropping three steps and
ducking."

As the game's final seconds--and with them the Ravens' imperious
yearlong reign as Super Bowl champions--ticked away, the
Steelers were not yet thinking about the New England Patriots,
their opponents in Sunday's AFC Championship. Instead, they were
intent on dissing Baltimore. "I never want to hear about the
Ravens' defense again!" screamed Flowers on the Pittsburgh
sideline. "We own their s---!"

His panting teammates repeated after Lee, "We own it! We own it!"

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER (FOOTBALL) [T of C] COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY HEINZ KLUETMEIER Air force Zereoue flew over the Ravens and made his landing in the end zone to stretch the Steelers' second-quarter lead. COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Catch as catch can't A shoulder from Flowers separated Ravens tight end Todd Heap from the ball.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)