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Ravens win the battle, but can they win the war?

By Michael Rushton, NFL Contributing Editor

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The Baltimore Ravens didn't celebrate their Sunday with hats, T-shirts or champagne.

After all, titles are not won in Week 1 of an NFL season, but what the Ravens did accomplish with their 35-7 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was a complete reversal of the momentum that been flowing towards the Steel City in the rivalry.

Twice in the previous three seasons, the Steelers ended the Ravens' playoff run, and Pittsburgh had won six of the past eight meetings overall in what is usually a close and hard-nosed series. Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley said during the offseason that Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco won't win a Super Bowl "in this lifetime" because he has to go through the Steelers.

Well, Flacco and company have the Steelers' attention now. A complete takeover of the mental advantage could come during a meeting at Heinz Field in early November, but a lot could also happen between now and then.

"We said this going in. The first game isn't going to be the end-all, be-all. It's not going to be the end of the season," said Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. "We have 15 more games to run this thing out and see where we're at. That's a heck of a football team [in Pittsburgh]. I guarantee you, they will be back."

For now, it is the Ravens who look like serious Super Bowl contenders.
For now, it is the Ravens who look like serious Super Bowl contenders. Forcing a team-record seven turnovers and gutting the feared Steelers defense for 170 yards rushing will earn you that honor.

The label of "team to beat" can also add extra weight to the shoulders, but Harbaugh kept saying all the right things after the lopsided win.

And unlike some of those on the Steelers who like to attack teams in the press as much as on the field, Harbaugh made sure not to give Pittsburgh any extra motivation.

"I hate that word, satisfying," he said afterward. "It's a great victory. The whole thing about ghosts, demons, monkeys on your back -- that's not real to us. It's a football game. Every game is a new game."

Except it wasn't. The schedule makers presumably did the Ravens no favors by matching them up with the Steelers to open the season. It was the first meeting between the clubs since last year's AFC Divisional Playoffs, when Baltimore blew a 21-7 lead thanks in part to three second-half turnovers and the Steelers rode that momentum to a Super Bowl appearance.

The Ravens again led 21-7 at the half on Sunday, only this time they kept their foot on the gas. Veteran linebacker Ray Lewis made sure of it.

"Everybody was saying, 'We've been here before.' And I was like, 'We haven't been here before, because 2010 is 2010, and 2011 is a whole new year'," said Lewis. "If you understand it that way, then you understand that this is a new team.

"Some people never went through the Pittsburgh rivalry, so why put them through that, you know, something that we went through [last year]. We're not talking about the Super Bowl champs, we're talking about the runner-up in the Super Bowl. So for us, the bottom-line was just to come out and be who we are. And that's the 2011 Ravens."

After a Steelers' fumble to open the second half, Flacco threw his third touchdown pass of the game just 12 seconds in, and the Ravens upped their advantage to 22 points following a two-point conversion on a fake extra point.

The victory was much-needed for Flacco, who had to listen to a slew of critics during the offseason while he waited to get back on the field. He cast a spell of silence less than three minutes into the game with a well-placed 27-yard touchdown pass to Anquan Boldin.

The fourth-year quarterback threw for 224 yards and did not turn the ball over. The performance perhaps converted a few doubters into believers, not that it mattered to Flacco.

"I don't know, there's always going to be critics," he said. "Turn around, 10 weeks down the road, and something might happen, and okay, it's back again. Who knows? For the time being, maybe, but I doubt it will last too long."

Sunday's victory didn't bring Flacco or the Ravens a championship. But it did earn them some respect.

COLTS HOPE TO QUICKLY MOVE ON

It is no surprise that the Indianapolis Colts struggled in their first meaningful game without Peyton Manning in 14 years.

That still doesn't make it any less concerning.

The Colts were walloped by the Houston Texans, 34-7, on Sunday and certainly didn't have the mojo of a team that has been to the playoffs in an NFL record- tying nine straight seasons. Indy allowed all 34 Houston points in the first half and didn't score its lone touchdown until the fourth quarter.

"I think today was just a performance issue," said Colts head coach Jim Caldwell. "They out-executed us, plain and simple. I think our guys turned it around and got some momentum in the second half, but not nearly enough. We just never got on track."

That is something the Colts will have to do quickly after Manning's string of 227 consecutive starts, including the playoffs, came to an end. Kerry Collins got the start in his place after being lured out of retirement in late August, but fumbled on consecutive snaps in the first quarter that led to Houston touchdowns.

"This wasn't the day that we had hoped for, but it's a long season," said Collins.

While Manning has always been able to get a variety of different receivers involved in every game, Collins managed to complete a pass to only four different players. Nearly half of his 16 completions went to Reggie Wayne, as the Colts seemed to be lacking the balance brought by Manning's ability to spread the ball out. Constant pressure on Collins didn't help, either.

Indianapolis was able to shake off a Week 1 loss to the Texans last year to win the AFC South, so it has been down this road before. This time it will be without No. 18 for the foreseeable future, however.

The Colts will need others to step up, and Wayne will be one of those counted on for leadership. He made sure his club wasn't hanging its head after the loss.

"It's a long season," Wayne said he told his teammates afterwards. "There's no reason to worry. We were in the same position last year. There's still time to accomplish our goal, and that's take care of [the] division."

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Michael Rushton at mrushton@sportsnetwork.com.

Follow Michael Rushton on Twitter and Facebook.

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