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Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Big Ben yells, then wills his team to victory

By James Walker
ESPN.com

Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker

 
 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
 Ben Roethlisberger sparked the Steelers to a 23-20 overtime victory over the Ravens on Monday.

PITTSBURGH -- Through one half Monday, it was difficult to tell which team had the rookie quarterback and which signal-caller owns a Super Bowl ring.

At that point, last year's 10-win team looked like last year's five-win team, and the former five-win team played like the reigning AFC North champs.

So an angry Ben Roethlisberger went inside the Pittsburgh Steelers' locker room at halftime and screamed at his offensive teammates of how tired he was of getting his tail kicked.

By intermission, Pittsburgh went eight straight quarters without a touchdown, and Roethlisberger was sacked 12 times in the past six quarters. Roethlisberger, somewhat out of character, gave a very loud wake-up call for a struggling unit and said he was as emotional and vocal as he's ever been.

The Steelers (3-1) and the offense responded by overcoming a 10-point deficit in the second half to earn a 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens (2-1) to take sole possession of first place in the division. Pittsburgh scored 20 points in the second half and overtime.

"I was tired of being booed and I was tired of being embarrassed on offense," Roethlisberger said of his halftime outburst. "I told the guys that. There's no need for it. I had to make a statement."

It was a classic battle between these bitter rivals that included a lot of jawing and even more hitting.

There were blows thrown, 13 penalties called, and two banged-up starting tailbacks.

In fact, Steelers rookie tailback Rashard Mendenhall (fractured shoulder) is now out for the season after taking a hard shot in the third quarter. Ravens starter Willis McGahee (unspecified) was injured in the second quarter. He returned in the second half but played sparingly and was a non-factor.

It took a 46-yard field goal from Pittsburgh kicker Jeff Reed to settle this slugfest in the extra period.

Behind a fierce defense and a poised rookie quarterback in Joe Flacco, the Ravens were game. Baltimore took a 13-3 lead after tight end Daniel Wilcox caught a 4-yard touchdown pass.

Flacco tried his best to outduel Roethlisberger to become the first rookie quarterback to win his team's first three games since Greg Cook did it in 1969. The first-round pick completed 16 of 31 passes for 192 yards and one touchdown. His numbers were nearly identical to Roethlisberger's (191 yards, one touchdown and one interception).

But the difference was Roethlisberger did his damage when the game was hanging in the balance. His 21-yard pass to backup tailback Mewelde Moore on a scramble play set up Pittsburgh's game-winning kick in overtime.

"It doesn't always have to be the prettiest," Roethlisberger said.

Flacco made a rookie mistake during a sack and fumble in the third quarter that helped lead to Pittsburgh's comeback. Pittsburgh linebacker James Harrison collapsed the pocket and knocked the ball loose for teammate LaMarr Woodley to pick up and return 7 yards for a score.

"I just have to take care of the ball," Flacco said afterward. "If we can take care of the ball there, it's a different story, but it happens."

Both the Ravens and Steelers are battered and beaten after this game but have to quickly turn around with big games next week against the Tennessee Titans (4-0) and Jacksonville Jaguars (2-2), respectively.

Yet, it was the Steelers who had more smiles in the locker room after a bruising game.

"It's great," Roethlisberger said. "Three-and-one sounds a lot better than 2-2. And it's a divisional game. That matters to us. We'll take it no matter how ugly it is."

Or how loud he has to scream.