It was a tough week in Baltimore.
Last Sunday, the Ravens didn't play well and lost to a division foe in their regular-season opener. They woke up Monday to a firestorm of controversy that would see one of their teammates, their friend, Ray Rice cut from the team just hours later.
Players found themselves answering questions about* *the incident, about the honor of their franchise and about the man they once played with.
Usually happy to get as much time to rest their bodies as possible, the Ravens were thankful to play Thursday night. M&T Bank Stadium, and the game of football, was their sanctuary.
The Ravens played like it against the Steelers. They appeared fresh, despite the short rest. Perhaps it was because they mentally were. They got to think only about football for three-plus hours.
Baltimore rallied. And their 26-6 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers leaves the Ravens feeling even stronger after the adversity that brought storm clouds around them.
"It's been a really long week, but it's the Raven identity," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We stick together. Our city is going through it with us … and it was good for us to get back onto the football field. We all banded together from the moment Thursday got here."
Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., a 14-year veteran, said he had never seen anything like the media attention around the Ravens this past week.
"I mean, they were everywhere – in the parking lot, in the locker room," Smith said. "And then you go home to your wife or your girlfriend and then you have to explain and take questions from them. I mean, it was really hard. Oh, and then, we have to learn plays for the Steelers."
Although the Ravens have never seen anything like the storm around the Rice situation, they've been through adversity before.
During their Super Bowl year in 2012, former Owner Art Modell died days before the regular season kicked off. Then wide receiver Torrey Smith's brother died in a motorcycle accident hours before a Week 3 game against the New England Patriots.
"You always band together in tough situations," Torrey Smith said. "The true testament of a man is how they act when they have adversity. That definitely is the case for us right now. We showed our character."
"We've been through a lot together," quarterback Joe Flacco added. "No matter what it is, I think that we're a team that tends to group together and come together through tough times. I never had a doubt that we wouldn't be able to come out here and go get a win tonight."
Head Coach John Harbaugh, however, was a bit worried, at least at the start of the week. The Ravens had never been through anything like this before, so "I guess you're never sure," he said.
Harbaugh delivered a message to his team early in the week. The gist of his message was:
"It was, "We have a football game to play,'" Harbaugh said. "'We care about our families. We care about the Rice family.' Our guys do. It's part of our family and we had a tough family situation this week. I thought our guys handled it tremendously, with class, with character, and they responded."
Harbaugh said he could tell his team would be ready when it had an extremely sharp practice on Monday right before he had to stand in front of reporters about Rice. He said the team didn't miss a single assignment.
The fact that the Ravens lost their first game also helped sharpen their focus. The players said they knew they couldn't lose a second straight game in the division – at home – to start the year.
"Our backs were against the wall," safety Matt Elam said. "We built a mentally strong team in camp. No team is stronger than ours. The brotherhood in this locker room, man, it's crazy."
Rice isn't forgotten in the Ravens locker room. The players still spoke well of him after Thursday night's win. But they know they have to move on without him.
"Ray was an important part of this team – a great teammate, a great friend and important in this community," tight end Dennis Pitta said. "We acknowledge the mistake that he made and certainly don't support the mistake. He'll have to own up to those consequences and he's doing that now.
"That certainly weighed heavy on our minds for him and his family. We were able to put that aside and look to the future, which is what we have to do."