Tuesday, November 01, 2011

As second Steelers game nears, season-opening win is a distant memory for Ravens

One of most heated rivalries in the NFL is ready for prime time with Steelers playing well

By Jeff Zrebiec
The Baltimore Sun
November 1, 2011

As he listened to his quarterback Joe Flacco speak to reporters and waited his turn at the podium following his team's 30-27 comeback victory over the Arizona Cardinals Sunday, Ravens coach John Harbaugh stole a couple of quick glances at a corner television, which was tuned in to the Pittsburgh Steelers' eventual victory over the New England Patriots.

For the rest of this week, there will no ambiguity as to where the Ravens' focus lies.

While always-entertaining linebacker Terrell Suggs may have been overstating things slightly when he guaranteed that the "whole NFL shuts down just for that game," there is no question that the Ravens-Steelers prime-time showdown Sunday at Heinz Field will not only add another chapter to arguably the league's most intense rivalry, but it could go a long way in determining the winner of the AFC North.

"It's a big game," said Harbaugh. "It's a game that we love to play in. It's Ravens-Steelers. We know how to play that game, they know how to play that game. We're looking forward to it. I do know that."

The Steelers, who haven't had their bye week yet, currently lead the division with a 6-2 record, while both the Ravens and the surprising Cincinnati Bengals stand at 5-2. Two weeks after they finish the regular-season series with Pittsburgh, the Ravens will play host to the Bengals.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, will be in Cincinnati next weekend, and then home against the Bengals two weeks later. So over the next five weeks, there is a good chance that the division hierarchy will be clear.

"As you go down your schedule and the games build up, they all become important, but this certainly is a huge game coming up this week," said linebacker Jarret Johnson.

The Ravens started the season with a 35-7 drubbing of the Steelers, forcing a team record seven turnovers, including five by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. A season-sweep of their rivals could be huge later this season with the division championship and a first-round bye in the playoffs potentially on the line.

However, such a result would be rare. Not only have they won just one of their last six games at Heinz Field, the Ravens haven't taken both regular-season games from the Steelers since 2006, which was also the year the team last won the AFC North.

The Ravens tried to say all the right things following their 28-point beat down of the Steelers on Sept. 11 — their largest margin of victory in the 34-game series — because they knew that Pittsburgh would bounce back and they'd have to go through them again this season, this time at Heinz Field.

It, however, would have been hard to envision the Steelers responding this well to the season-opening loss. They have won four straight games, beating the two teams that defeated the Ravens (the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars), the same Cardinals team that had the Ravens in a 24-3 hole deep into the second quarter Sunday, and the Patriots.

Pittsburgh's 25-17 victory over New England may have been the Steelers most impressive performance yet as the Dick LeBeau's defense, which was labeled too old and slow after Week One, held Tom Brady and the Patriots to 213 total yards of offense, and Roethlisberger threw for 365 yards and two touchdown passes.

In six games since throwing one touchdown pass and three interceptions against the Ravens, Roethlisberger has thrown for 13 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.

"They're the same team," said Harbaugh. "They've got injuries, they got adversity that they've been battling. I think they're the same Steelers that they've always been. They're a tough, hard-nosed team. They've got a great quarterback and a great defense and they're as physical as can be. It's a team we respect."

The Steelers questioned whether that was the case after what they believed was an attempt by the Ravens to embarrass them in the first meeting between the two teams. The Ravens went for a two-point conversion to make it 29-7 early in the third quarter and Flacco threw the ball to the end zone with a 32-7 lead late in the fourth quarter. The Pittsburgh defensive line also accused the Ravens of throwing chop blocks.

Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark has been one of the more outspoken Steelers, making reference to Harbaugh raising his arms exhorting the crowd, and several Ravens dancing on the sideline in the later stages of the game.

"We'll remember everything," Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said after the game.

Ward, who has been one of the main figures in the rivalry, sat out Sunday's game versus New England with an ankle injury and he isn't certain to play Sunday.

"A lot of guys won't get to play because they are hurt, but sure enough, 'Sizzle' will be there," said Suggs who has 13 1/2 regular season sacks against the Steelers, the most any active NFL player has compiled against Pittsburgh. "I get to go into Heinz Field and be the bad guy. It's going to be fun, but you know, they are going to go after me. We're going to have fun though."

Though their promises to be plenty of trash talk throughout the week, Ravens safety Ed Reed said that the rivalry and the ramifications of the game speak for themselves.

"We know what this is: It's Pittsburgh and Ravens," said Reed. "They started off rough, but here they go. They are playing good. It's going to be a battle. Sunday night is always a battle. It's always good football."


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