BALTIMORE – The dismissal of Ray Rice wasn’t a distraction for the Baltimore Ravens.
Ultimately, it served as inspiration.
Playing a pivotal divisional game three days after the release of the star running back, Baltimore got a pair of touchdown passes from Joe Flacco and rolled past the rival Pittsburgh Steelers 26-6 on Thursday night.
Rice was reaching the end of a two-game suspension for domestic violence when a video of him striking his then-fiancee surfaced Monday. By the end of the day, the three-time Pro Bowler had been cut by Baltimore and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
“We had a tough family situation this week,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I thought our guys handled it tremendously — with class, with character. They responded.”
Coming off a season-opening loss to AFC North foe Cincinnati, the Ravens (1-1) held Pittsburgh to two field goals and forced three turnovers.
“We was all about getting the win. We wanted to kind of give that to Ray,” rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley said. “We all wish the best for him. Even though he messed up, every man got to go through their mistakes to get better. We wish him the best, but as a team we’ve just got to keep moving forward.”
Bernard Pierce took over for Rice to gain 96 yards on 22 carries as part of a ground game that finished with 157 yards. Flacco went 21-for-29 for 166 yards and two TD throws to tight end Owen Daniels, and Justin Tucker kicked four field goals.
Asked if he was curious how the team would fare after the tumultuous short work week, Baltimore defensive lineman Chris Canty shouted, “We weren’t curious at all. We knew how this was going to go. This was going to go one way, our way, tonight. No question about it.”
Pittsburgh (1-1) finished with only 22 fewer yards than Baltimore, but the turnovers made the difference. One Steelers miscue halted their opening drive, another set up a fourth-quarter field goal by Tucker, and an interception thrown by Ben Roethlisberger with 1:51 remaining ended any hope.
“Obviously, a disappointing effort for us,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “A lot of the self-inflicted wounds are going to prevent you from being in a football game like that. We turned the ball over too often (and) were highly penalized. Those two things are a lethal combination.”
It was only the second time in the last 11 regular-season meetings between the teams that the outcome was decided by more than three points.
Roethlisberger completed 22 of 37 passes for 217 yards. It was the first time since Nov. 26, 2006, that Baltimore held Pittsburgh without a touchdown.
“We moved the ball; we just made a mistake here and there,” Roethlisberger said.
After Tucker kicked a 23-yard field goal for a 20-6 lead, Steelers tight end Heath Miller fumbled on a hit by Mosley, who took the loose ball to the Pittsburgh 20.
That led to a 22-yarder by Tucker with 11:14 left.
Although the Rice video and the reaction were the talk of Baltimore for much of the week, a few fans showed their loyalty to the banished running back by wearing his No. 27 jersey.
But the crowd of 71,181 was quick to turn its attention to on-field action at the opening kickoff.
Aided by a roughing the passer call against Courtney Upshaw on the third play of the game, Pittsburgh held the ball for more than eight minutes before Justin Brown fumbled and Baltimore recovered at its own 15.
The Ravens then moved 85 yards in 12 plays with the help of two Pittsburgh penalties, the last a 23-yard pass interference call against Cortez Allen that set up a 2-yard touchdown pass from Flacco to Daniels.
Pierce and Justin Forsett combined for 32 yards on Baltimore’s next series, which ended in a field goal for a 10-0 lead.
Pittsburgh finally broke through with 2:50 left in the half, getting a field goal to end an 11-play, 73-yard drive.
It was 10-6 before Flacco connected with Daniels on a 1-yard touchdown pass to cap an 80-yard drive highlighted by Flacco’s 24-yard completion to tight end Dennis Pitta.