PITTSBURGH - The pre-game buzz was all about the lack of buzz.
It was the Baltimore Ravens against the Pittsburgh Steelers, but this one was different.
No Ray Lewis, no Ed Reed. No James Harrison, either.
Mirror photo by J.D. Cavrich
Emmanuel Sanders’ kickoff return late put the Steelers in position to win the game.
Beyond that, there was the issue that the teams were staring up at the Cincinnati Bengals and (gasp!) Cleveland Browns in the AFC North standings.
So one of the NFL's most intense rivalries was going to be diminished by having too many players unfamiliar with the history and teams carrying the weight of mediocre records - 3-3 for the Super Bowl champion Ravens, 1-4 for the Steelers.
As so often happens, the pre-game buzz had little to do with the game.
It was the Ravens and Steelers just the way you'd expect it: Hard-hitting, noisy and a game decided by a slim margin on the game's last play.
Shaun Suisham's 42-yard field goal gave the Steelers the 19-16 victory at Heinz Field, and allowed them to take another step out of the 0-4 hole they dug to start this season.
"Trying to remain relevant," was the way coach Mike Tomlin put it, and that was a pretty effective way to phrase it.
Having already lost a pair of games they could have been expected to win (vs. Tennessee and Minnesota), you never know what the expect in the NFL.
But it's encouraging that the Steelers have clearly improved in the last two weeks against the New York Jets and Ravens.
Sunday's game was a breakthrough for Le'Veon Bell, the second-round draft pick who is now expected to carry the load at a weak running back position.
Bell ran for 93 yards, and averaged just under five yards per carry. It wasn't just what he did, it was the way he did it.
On one first half play, he bumped into the pile, bounced off, cut to the right and gained eight yards on a play that appeared to be headed nowhere.
Bell lined up behind center on a couple of wildcat formations, a new wrinkle that could manifest itself more significantly as the season progresses.
He looked comfortable, taking time to wait for openings to develop, reading what was in front of him and maximizing the opportunities.
In short, Bell looked like a legitimate NFL running back, something the Steelers have lacked so far this season.
The Steelers defense held the Ravens to a single touchdown, and controlled Ray Rice. True, Rice hasn't been himself as he works his back from an injury, but lesser backs were having success against the Steelers earlier.
The Steelers still have too many flaws. Suisham's efficiency is a plus, but they're too reliant on him for points. The lack of a pass rush is troubling, and so is the inability to generate takeaways.
But there are no perfect teams in the NFL, and the Steelers have won two straight games, something that didn't seem likely a few weeks ago.
That they were able to do it against Baltimore makes it more interesting. Although a lot of players don't have much experience in the rivalry, it doesn't take long to get up to speed.
"It was a good game," Bell said. "Definitely a lot of hard hitting and a lot of trash talk. But that's the type of player I am. It felt good to be out there."
Even better to win, and take another step toward relevance.
Mehno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org