BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh couldn't remember exactly what he told his team before the game that led to a motivated 26-6 victory over the rival Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. Nor could his players.
What did stick with Harbaugh was the fact that his players didn't have a missed assignment during practice Monday. Four hours after the release of running back Ray Rice, the players took to the field and were sharp with the game plan for the Steelers.
"So, that was a good indication," Harbaugh said after his largest margin victory over the Steelers since 2011.
How could the Ravens not be affected by a story that dominated headlines across the nation? The players simply understood the alternative of not being focused.
The Ravens couldn’t start the season 0-2 with home losses to division opponents. Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, no team has been able to reach the playoffs after such a start, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
“We had no choice but to think about this game,” safety Matt Elam said.
The perception is that the emotions of the Rice saga would not allow the Ravens to devote all of their attention to the Steelers. The Ravens believe it’s easier than what outsiders think.
Harbaugh said his team was in what he called "that football cocoon." The Ravens banded together and played with an intensity that wasn't evident in the season opener.
"We are really isolated from all of that," Harbaugh said. "As a football team, we got into our meeting rooms and our locker rooms, and we go to work."
If there was any question whether the Ravens would be distracted by parting ways with the second-leading rusher in franchise history, they provided the answer in the first quarter.
Historically a slow-starting team, the Ravens set the tone when linebacker Daryl Smith forced a fumble at the Baltimore 15-yard line and Flacco converted that turnover into a 12-play, 85-yard drive. It was capped by Joe Flacco's 2-yard touchdown pass to Owen Daniels.
The Ravens' relentlessness continued until the fourth quarter. Left guard Kelechi Osemele realized the Ravens were wearing down the Steelers when he saw linebacker Lawrence Timmons throwing up on the field.
The Ravens were the more motivated team. They were the more desperate team. They were the more focused team. Some key numbers -- no turnovers, four penalties and 35 minutes in time of possession -- underscore that.
"As soon as the clock ticked to zero against Cincinnati on Sunday, there was a sense of urgency that we had to get back on the field," said Flacco, who went 10-for-10 passing for 84 yards and two touchdowns on the Ravens' two touchdown drives.
Many players don't enjoy Thursday games because the quick turnaround doesn't allow their bodies to recover. This time, the quick four-day turnaround was a welcomed change.
In many ways, the three hours at M&T Bank Stadium on Thursday were the easiest part of an emotional week. It allowed them to get back to what they do best.
"It just felt good to get back to football," defensive end Chris Canty said. "We're answering a lot of questions about things that don't pertain to football, so I'm just really excited that the men in this locker room came together amid all of that adversity and we put the kind of performance out there that we did tonight."
Canty added, "It's been an emotional week. But, in the game of football, you've got to be able to play with emotion to play at your best. You could see it on the sideline. We were all cheering each other on."
In comparison, the adversity they faced on the field didn't seem so daunting. Running back Bernard Pierce, who was benched Sunday for fumbling, showed determination in running for 96 yards. The defense delivered turnovers two of the three times the Steelers got inside the 20-yard line (Smith's forced fumble and Haloti Ngata's interception).
As a result, the Ravens were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. For the first time since the football world saw Rice's latest video on Monday morning, the news swirling around the Ravens was good.
"I think adversity can bring you together, and our guys are made of the right stuff," Harbaugh said. "I'm proud of them for that."