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Steelers sharpen their focus, rout Ravens

Let’s get this straight.

The Steelers lose to a Bears team that has lost its three other games by an average of 16 points, then they go and win at Baltimore for the first time since 2012.

When we print out those Steelers schedules in April, we pretty much pencil in  an “L” next to “at Baltimore” and work around it.

Not this year.

Winning in Baltimore is the kind of thing that Super Bowl-caliber Steelers teams do. They won there in 2008 and 2010. They failed to make the playoffs after Charlie Batch led them to a win at Baltimore in 2012, but remember they lost Ike Taylor for the season in that game and that’s a big reason they dropped three of their last four.

So does Sunday’s 26-9 win over the Ravens absolve the Steelers of their loss at Chicago? Or do the Steelers (3-1) still have to explain their slip-ups against weak competition?

Perhaps one reason the Steelers weren’t fully prepared against the Bears is that the national anthem controversy, to put it delicately, presented them with certain distractions that no other team had to face.

It’s not unprecedented for a Steelers team with Super Bowl talent to be preoccupied with non-football matters right before a game and come out flat against one of the worst teams in the league.

According to the NFL Network’s “America’s Game” documentary on the 1979 Steelers, the players on that team were discussing the World Series, in which the Pirates were playing the Orioles, just before taking the field to play the 0-6 Bengals in Cincinnati. They lost 34-10, but still went on to win Super Bowl XIV.

Yes, the subject matter was much lighter, but the point is that football really should be the only thing on players’ minds in the moments before a game.

It looked like the Steelers learned that lesson despite Alex Collins‘ 23-yard run on the first play from scrimmage on Sunday. They eventually forced a punt and then kept the ball for 16 plays on their first possession, which resulted in a field goal.

At the time, it seemed like the Steelers should have come away with more than a field goal after such a long drive, but their 3-0 lead was not insignificant. It was the first time they had even led at Baltimore since that 2012 game. Another Chris Boswell field goal midway through the second quarter increased that lead to 6-0. It was the Steelers’ biggest lead at Baltimore in 15 years.

That’s right. You have to go back to that magical year of Tommy Maddox in 2002 to find a Steelers’ lead of more than four points at Baltimore.

Sunday’s lead grew to 13-0 when Cameron Heyward forced and recovered a fumble at the Ravens’ 28 to set up a 1-yard touchdown run by Le’Veon Bell. It was the first of two touchdowns for Bell, who finally decided to start his season in October after essentially using September for his training camp. Bell broke out for 144 yards and caught four passes to share the team lead in receptions with Antonio Brown.

Steelers not named Antonio Brown caught some passes for a change, and that helped the Steelers score their next touchdown.

Two of Martavis Bryant‘s three receptions came on back-to-back plays. The first was a 24-yard connection with Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-six from the Steelers’ 46. Bryant then caught a 19-yard pass and two plays later No. 19 made it 19-0 when Roethlisberger threw JuJu Smith-Schuster an 11-yard touchdown pass.

If opposing defenses have to start thinking twice about double-covering Brown, this Steelers’ offense might finally start lighting up scoreboards.

Not that the Steelers really were expected to break the 30-point barrier in Baltimore. These rare wins in Baltimore aren’t supposed to be pretty. That said, the Steelers looked as good Sunday as they have all season.

And since the Pirates aren’t in the playoffs, there should be nothing to divert the Steelers’ attention from the Jaguars next week at Heinz Field.

Follow Mike @Steel_Tweets.

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