BALTIMORE — The Pittsburgh Steelers had just absorbed a 35-7 beating at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens, and Mike Tomlin knew his players were dazed and disappointed.
Tomlin walked toward the locker room, did an about face at the door and faced his team as it walked in. He untucked his shirt, extended his hand and pressed the flesh with the stunned Steelers. It is a practice he usually performs after a win.
This time, he asked the players to learn from their poor showing Sunday.
"Chew on it. Chew on it like a champ," he said. "Swallow it whole and chew on it, men. Chew on it. We're fine."
The defending AFC champions got their season off to a rocky start, committing seven turnovers against their hated rivals in an ugly defeat. Ben Roethlisberger, who had won seven straight against Baltimore, was sacked four times, threw three interceptions and lost two fumbles.
"I need to play a lot better. It's the first one, first game of the year," he said. "I grabbed our offense at the end and just talked to them and said the season's not won or lost today, the division's not won or lost. We just dug ourself a little hole. We'll be all right. We'll learn and we'll come back stronger than ever."
Very little went right for Big Ben, who entered the game with a career-high run of 158 passes without an interception.
"It hurts so much to lose (but) it's hard not to chuckle at some of the things," he said. "Tipped balls at the line of scrimmage getting intercepted, balls coming out, fumbles, just everything didn't go our way."
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes, Haloti Ngata led an inspired defense that forced a team-record seven turnovers, and Baltimore rolled to its most lopsided victory in a hotly contested series that began in 1996.
Ray Rice ran for 107 yards and scored twice for the Ravens, who bolted to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter and never let up. It was a rematch of a second-round playoff game in which the Steelers rallied to beat Baltimore 31-24.
That day, the Ravens let a 21-7 halftime lead evaporate with three turnovers in the third quarter. At halftime of this one, Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis spoke loudly in the locker room after his teammates compared the two games.
"They were saying, 'We've been here before,'" Lewis said. "No, we haven't been here before. This is a whole new year."
This time, the Ravens got three takeaways in the third quarter to turn a 21-7 advantage into a rout.
Ngata was the driving force, causing a fumble and deflecting a pass that produced an interception. Ed Reed also picked off two passes for the Ravens, who mercilessly harassed Roethlisberger.
"I guess they were waiting for this one," the quarterback said.
The defeat ended Pittsburgh's eight-game winning streak in season openers. The Steelers committed six turnovers after halftime and were dominated on both sides of the field.
"We got beat into submission," linebacker James Farrior said of Pittsburgh's main competition in the AFC North.
In the past 51 games, only twice has Pittsburgh allowed a runner to reach 100 yards. Rice did it both times.
Rice had more yards at halftime on rushes (89) and catches (38) than Pittsburgh did on its 26 offensive plays (113).
Before the game, both teams and the crowd of 71,434 marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 by standing silent while "Taps" was played over the public address system.
Then a giant American flag was unfurled, covering the entire field. Players on both sidelines held the flag in place while the national anthem was sung.
The Steelers won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, giving the Ravens the chance to get the ball first. Baltimore made the most of the opportunity — and didn't take much time doing so.
Rice ran for 36 yards on the first play, then carried for 3 yards to the 27 before Flacco lofted a touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.
Baltimore turned a Roethlisberger miscue into a touchdown to make it 14-0 late in the first quarter. The Steelers answered with their first score of the 2011 season, an 11-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Emmanuel Sanders.
Baltimore went up 21-7 with an 84-yard march in which Flacco converted three third-and-6 situations, the last with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Rice on third down.
In the third quarter, Ngata forced a fumble on the first play from scrimmage by driving into Rashard Mendenhall immediately after the running back took a handoff. Ngata recovered the loose ball, and Flacco threw an 18-yard TD pass to Ed Dickson on the next play.
To add insult, Baltimore added a 2-point conversion when holder Sam Koch ran the ball in on a fake kick.Comment on this story
After the kickoff, Ngata tipped a Roethlisberger pass and Lewis made the interception. But the Ravens were stopped on a fourth-and-1.
An interception by Reed led to a field goal by Billy Cundiff for a 32-7 lead.
Notes: Pittsburgh LB James Harrison left in the fourth quarter with a bruised knee. ... Ravens rookie CB Jimmy Smith sprained his ankle on a first-quarter kickoff and did not return. ... Terrell Suggs had three sacks to become the Ravens' career leader with 71½, passing Peter Boulware. ... Reed has 12 career multi-interception games.