Bryant McKinnie weighs in for Ravens

BALTIMORE — There is a new bully on the AFC North block.

This changing of the divisional guard coincides with the upgrade at left tackle the Baltimore Ravens made in signing former Minnesota Vikings Pro Bowler Bryant McKinnie off the scrap heap Aug. 26.

It was hard to tell the newest Raven was shucking off rust following his first game in eight months considering how "Mount" McKinnie served an eviction notice to former AFC North bully, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison. It happened from the outset of Baltimore's 35-7 season-opening beatdown of the 2010 AFC North champions.

The 6-8 McKinnie is politely listed at 360 pounds. Small wonder why McKinnie literally made the biggest difference in the latest installment of the Steelers-Ravens blood feud Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis calls "hit or be hit."

McKinnie was released by the Vikings when he reported to training camp at 387. He's gone from eating his way out of Minnesota to devouring Harrison with a play that may have signaled an AFC North seismic shift.

On the game's first play from scrimmage, McKinnie, tight end Ed Dickson, left guard Ben Grubbs and fullback Vonta Leach rumbled around the left side on first-and-10 from the Baltimore 34-yard line.

Harrison was erased by McKinnie and Grubbs. Then, McKinnie took out linebacker James Farrior while center Matt Birk blunted nose tackle Casey Hampton to spring running back Ray Rice for 36 yards.

Two plays later, quarterback Joe Flacco fired a 27-yard scoring strike to Anquan Boldin and what Rice called a "beatdown" was on.

"Bryant blew up two guys on that first play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. ""Like Ray Rice said, 'This is the 2011 Baltimore Ravens.
"All that stuff that happened last year doesn't matter."

Harbaugh was referring to the Steelers beating Baltimore two of three times last season, making it six Pittsburgh wins in eight meetings with last January's 31-24 Ravens playoff ouster.

In those losses, Harrison, linebacker LaMarr Woodley and safety Troy Polamalu seemed to make the biggest plays when it mattered most.
The signature play came when Polamalu raced in unblocked and strip sacked Flacco late in Pittsburgh's 13-10 win last Dec. 5 when neither tackle Michael Oher nor Flacco glanced Polamalu's way.

That set up the winning touchdown and, in effect, the offseason changing of Ravens tackles.

Oher, the 2009 first-rounder who's life story was featured in the book and movie The Blindside, was switched to the right side after Lewis and others lobbied general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh to sign McKinnie.

Flacco and Rice combined for 331 of Baltimore's 385 yards with Flacco throwing for three scores and Rice running for a fourth.

Rice's 107 rushing yards were 23 more than he gained in three games against Pittsburgh's top-ranked 2010 rush defense in three games last season. He said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's plan was "to establish the run game running behind Bryant McKinnie."

"It was definitely a statement to let them know we're coming at them and were going to be physical," McKinnie said of that first play.

"We wanted to make sure we landed more of our punches than they did. We watched film clips of them bullying people. We had to take on that same attitude."

The question was how soon the re-constituted Raven line would mesh given McKinnie had only been there two weeks while Birk and right guard Marshall Yanda missed the preseason due to knee and back issues, respectively.

"Right from the beginning, McKinnie made his presence felt," Ravens analyst Qadry Ismail said. "James Harrison was trying to get low and around the edge. But McKinnie had his left hand in Harrison's chest and really just pancaked him.

"Bryant McKinnie is able to use his leverage so well, whereas Michael Oher is more of a dominant, proven right tackle.

"What the line did against Dick LeBeau's defense without playing a game together was quite remarkable."

The Steelers had the look of an aging defense suffering a Super Bowl hangover — a Super Bowl XLV-losing hangover following their 31-25 loss to Green Bay.

"We're not shell shocked," defensive captain Farrior said. "We got beat into submission.

This time, his front five gave Flacco time to hit for 224 yards and show why he's one of the game's best touch passers against the nemesis that had gone 6-0 against him with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback.

"Everybody asks, 'Is this the year Joe's going to take that next step?"' Harbaugh said . "Joe sure looked like he took that next step didn't he?"
At least for one week, Flacco's bigger, better protectors had everything to do with that next step.

McKinnie hopes for another, having reached the Super Bowl brink with the 12-4 Vikings before losing the NFC Championship game in overtime to New Orleans.

"The Vikings said I lost it. But I never had a chance to display it," said McKinnie. "They're in my rear view. And the Ravens are in my clear view.
"This certainly looks like a Super Bowl team."

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