BALTIMORE -- Call it turning poison into poise.
The shaky locker-room dynamic early in the week, with fingers pointed internally over the handling of the national anthem in Chicago, could have been a catalyst for perpetuating the struggles in Baltimore, setting the stage for Baltimore's seventh win in nine tries over Pittsburgh.
Le'Veon Bell and the Steelers flipped that outlook right into the end zone with a 26-9 win in M&T Bank Stadium, giving hope for improved road play for the rest of the season after opening a 19-0 lead. The defense was just as resolute with back-to-back interceptions in the fourth quarter to help seal the game.
Mike Tomlin was right -- he knows his team. The Steelers wouldn't be divided by an icy few days.
"I think they revealed a little bit about themselves in the midst of just the process of getting ready to play," Tomlin said.
All week, signs pointed to the Steelers streamlining the offense. Several players told ESPN they expected to shrink the playbook and run the rock. Ben Roethlisberger promised a balanced attack and better quarterback play. They shook up their back-end receiving core, benching Eli Rogers in favor of Justin Hunter.
And so the Steelers ran ... and ran ... and ran the ball with Bell, who posted 56 yards on nine touches on the first drive, which ended in a field goal but set an appropriate tone.
His gaudy final line of 144 rushing yards and two scores on 35 carries marked the second-most rushing attempts ever against the Ravens' defense. That might not be air-it-out fun for the Steelers' offense, but it will certainly do. Bell added 42 receiving yards for a total of 186, nearly double his previous season-high of 98.
"He's the best in the league and his numbers weren't showing it," said center Maurkice Pouncey about Bell's 3.5 yards per carry from Weeks 1-3. "There's been a lot of pressure on him to go out there and produce at a high level. We're real happy that he did tonight."
The Steelers did so by blocking well on the perimeter, which had been an issue in the past. Several linemen served as pulling blockers throughout the game.
Bell said this week he wanted to return to that "special player" whom the Steelers rode into the playoffs last year. He's looking more like that now.
"I challenge myself in all aspects of the game," Bell said. "The offensive line felt they wanted to get me rolling. Ramon [Foster] told me before the game, 'This is the one to get everything started.’ When your own O-line wants it as bad as I do, it kind of got me going."
His stats aren’t flashy, but Roethlisberger (18-of-30, 216 yards, one touchdown, one interception) improved this week. The offense still isn’t connecting on the few big plays downfield, but Roethlisberger targeted seven different receivers and was more accurate overall. His only interception was a fluke play in which Antonio Brown appeared down but officials ruled the ball was still up for grabs.
Not one Steelers receiver eclipsed 50 yards, which is still a bit alarming for an offense this talented.
But the resolve shown by Pittsburgh has to be encouraging, particularly by the defense.
Just when it looked like the Ravens would creep back, the Steelers were prepared to answer.
Down 19-9 and Baltimore driving, T.J. Watt’s diving tackle for a loss and Bud Dupree’s punishing sack of Joe Flacco took the Ravens' offense off the field.
Ryan Shazier stopped the next drive with a diving interception off a "what-was-he-thinking?" Flacco throw.
And cornerback Mike Hilton sent fans to the exits with his own interception off a Shazier tip.
A couple of miscues, including a wide-open edge on Alex Collins’ 50-yard run, are offset by an inspired overall effort from the defense, which is consistently playing well enough to win right now.
"I think we're all clicking," Watt said. "We're playing really well as a unit, and I think that's what's helping us."
The biggest issue might have been penalties by the offensive line, which committed six infractions by itself, including two apiece for Chris Hubbard and David DeCastro. The Steelers might have surpassed 30 points with a cleaner game.
DeCastro made up for it with a huge open-field pulling block to spring Bell for a third-down conversion.
The most physical team always wins in Steelers-Ravens football.
"It's no secret that they have owned us here," Roethlisberger said. "It's a great rivalry, but I take it very personally. It's just very satisfying to come in here and win."