Are the Baltimore Ravens an optical illusion and was their 2-1 record heading into Week 3 nothing more than a disguise for a bad team? That’s exactly what some are thinking after the Pittsburgh Steelers dismantled their AFC North foe at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday.
Either way you view it, the Steelers are the team with a 3-1 record and sole possession of first place in the AFC North.
We look at this in more depth as we dive into the Steelers news outside the walls of BTSC:
Maybe this is just who they are.
And maybe most of the world is right: Joe Flacco isn't an elite quarterback.
After the Steelers beat the Ravens 26-9 on Sunday to move to 3-1 and take sole possession of first place in the AFC North, the theme out of Baltimore might best be depicted by a shrug of the shoulders.
Mike Preston of the Baltimore Sun didn't give a grade better than C+ for any aspect of the Ravens, who were doomed by a mediocre offense and a linebacker corps that had no answers for Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell.
Preston points out that the Ravens simply don't have the playmakers to compete with the Steelers ."In all honesty, there’s no one on the Ravens who puts fear in another team," Preston writes. "Once the Ravens fall behind, they have a tough time trying to play catch up because they don't have big-play capability."
The Sun's Edward Lee noted third-string running back Alex Collins was a lone bright spot for the Ravens. He had nine carries for 82 yards.
Logan Levy of Baltimore Beatdown, the Ravens' SB Nation site, took the struggles one step further: It's time to fire offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg .
"The harsh reality is that Flacco is not playing at a high level, but with the schedule only getting harder, Baltimore needs to create a spark," Levy writes. "It would be unrealistic and a lot harder to replace Flacco at this point."
Flacco was his own harshest critic after the loss.
"I sucked. It wasn't good," Flacco said.
The Sun's Childs Walker summed up what we learned about the Ravens after the loss. His first point? The Ravens offense is going nowhere .
"For two years now, we've heard Flacco and the team's coaches talk about how they're a few lapsed plays away from unlocking a consistent offense," Walker writes. "But those missed chances ... keep happening. At some point, we just have to call that the team's reality.”
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens turned out to be something of a drab undercard on Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium. The real fight was Antonio Brown vs. the Gatorade cooler.
Yes, the most memorable moment of Pittsburgh’s 26-9 victory over the offensively challenged Ravens came in the second quarter, with the Steelers leading 3-0 and after an incomplete Ben Roethlisberger pass to Le’Veon Bell on 3rd-and-4. Brown, the Steelers’ brilliant No. 1 wideout, had abused his man on a double-move and was wide open for what would have been a 64-yard touchdown catch if Roethlisberger had so much as looked his way.
Brown didn’t take it well.
He stomped. He flailed his arms. He shook his head in disbelief. When he got back to the sideline, he took his frustrations out on that poor Gatorade cooler and shooed away offensive coordinator Todd Haley when Haley came over to settle him down.
"It's like a kid being excited on Christmas," Brown explained later. "You're expecting that play on that day. Sometimes, it doesn't work out. We won the game today."
Brown's was the kind of behavior that, had it come from someone like the Giants' Odell Beckham Jr., would have launched a week's worth of hand-wringing hot takes about maturity and sideline decorum. Had it come in a Steelers loss, it might have risen to the level of a problem. It didn't, in part because they won but also because this is a Steelers team that sees a bigger picture. They're 3-1 now, with a head-to-head road victory in their pockets over their closest competitor. They were well aware, following the game, that the Patriots had lost at home. These Steelers know who they are, what they expect of themselves and what they want to accomplish together. So what happened with Brown is a blip on a radar screen on which the outer edge stretches to Minnesota and Super Bowl LII.
"Hey, we've just got to keep climbing that ladder, keep checking those boxes, so in November, December, January, February, we are where we want to be," Steelers guard Ramon Foster said. "If we're right-minded, we can be a team that can take off."
It wasn't an easy week in Pittsburgh, where the Steelers were coming off not only a tough loss in Chicago but also dealing with the fallout from last Sunday's much-publicized national anthem demonstration. Discussions raged in the locker room about what needed to be done to play better and what were the right and wrong things to do about the anthem this week and going forward. Players described the week as intense and emotional, and some admitted they didn't know how it would affect them once the game began.
"That type of stuff will break you or it will bring you together," Foster said. "And I think for us, the evidence was out there on that scoreboard today."
Martavis Bryant hasn’t quite lit up the stat sheet following his yearlong absence for violating the NFL’s policy on banned substances.
Through four games, Bryant has 10 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown on 23 targets with a long of 51. That projects out to a pedestrian 40-catch season — or very similar to what his numbers were in 11 games the last time he played a season in 2015.
Mike Tomlin on Tuesday acknowledged Bryant’s struggles, but spoke glowingly about how he has approached some of his shortcomings since returning from his suspension.
“I’ve been talking openly with Martavis about this process he’s going through,” Tomlin said. “I like a few very specific things about it. Man, he’s not in anyway guarded about this process he’s going through. I think that aids the process. When you’ve been out of football the length he’s been out of football, there’s some rust to knock off, there’s some re-acclimation, if you will. He’s not pretending that it’s not. That has been helpful.”