By David Ginsburg
December 24, 2015
FILE - This Dec. 20, 2015 file photo shows Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) walking on the sidelines during the first half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos in Pittsburgh. The Steelers will face the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Fred Vuich, file)
BALTIMORE (AP) -- An injured Ben Roethlisbergerwatched from the sideline in October when the Pittsburgh Steelers lost at home to their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens.
Big Ben is back for the rematch Sunday, looking to secure a playoff berth for the Steelers. This time, it's the Ravens who are without their top quarterback.
Joe Flacco is out for the season with a knee injury, making this the first time since his rookie season in 2008 he's missed a game against the Steelers.
''You always want to play each team at full strength,'' Roethlisberger said. ''But it's the NFL, and there are always going to be injuries. So, it just can't happen that way. But it's still a big game. It's still the Steelers versus the Ravens regardless of who's out there.''
So it was in Week 4, when the Ravens got their first victory of the year by defeating Pittsburgh 23-20 in overtime. While Roethlisberger was nursing an MCL sprain, backup Michael Vick passed for only 124 yards.
Roethlisberger and the Steelers (9-5) long ago put that game behind them. A victory over the skidding Ravens (4-10), combined with a loss by the New York Jets, assures Pittsburgh no worse than an AFC wild card.
There's no telling who will be calling the signals for Baltimore. Coach John Harbaugh says he will choose between Matt Schaub, Jimmy Clausen and newcomer Ryan Mallett shortly before kickoff.
The Steelers don't care.
''Obviously, each quarterback brings a little something different to the table, in terms of individual skill sets,'' coach Mike Tomlin said. ''But largely, their schematics are their schematics, and they have a playing style that has been displayed throughout the 14 games that they've played.''
The Ravens lost a vast majority of those games and have been outscored 69-20 in the last two. But this is Steelers-Ravens, so...
''Whether we're 0-14 or 14-0, the Steelers game is the Steelers game, no matter what,'' Baltimore defensive tackle Brandon Williams said. ''We're going to take it the same way every single time. It's going to be a high-intensity game. We're going to give everything we've got, and I'm pretty sure they're going to do the same.''
Some things to know about this heated AFC North rivalry:
HOME WOES: The Ravens once flourished on their own turf, but this season they set a franchise record for home losses in a season with five. Sunday's game represents their last chance to get it right and, in the process, take Pittsburgh down a notch.
''Obviously, it will hurt their playoff chances,'' Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda said. ''But we're trying to win one football game, and the Steelers are in our way.''
BELL RINGER: DeAngelo Williams has served as a very suitable replacement for Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell, whose season ended with a torn MCL in a loss to Cincinnati on Nov. 1.
Since that game, Pittsburgh has won five of six. Williams has a team-high 799 yards rushing along with 32 catches for 301 yards.
''He's a 10-year veteran, but boy, he has the enthusiasm of a young guy. He loves ball,'' Tomlin said. ''He brings a positive energy to our workplace daily. He has been as critical to our run in that regard as he has as a player.''
HOT IN DECEMBER: The Steelers have won 10 straight in December, a streak that began in 2013. With a victory Sunday, Tomlin would improve to 26-12 in December, including 5-1 against Baltimore in that month.
Before stumbling at home against Seattle and Kansas City, Baltimore was 11-5 in December under Harbaugh and 31-13 over the previous 19 years.
STREAKING RECEIVERS: Over the past six games, Pittsburgh's Antonio Brown has 64 catches for 868 yards and seven TDs.
Roethlisberger attributes Brown's success to the work both players put in together, but adds, ''He's just that good, I guess.''
Baltimore, meanwhile, has come to rely on Kamar Aiken since Steve Smith's season ended with a torn Achilles tendon. Aiken has caught at least five passes in seven consecutive games, the NFL's third-longest active streak and second best in franchise history.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: The word ''hate'' has been used in the past by the Steelers and Ravens to describe their feelings toward each other, but Tomlin sees things differently.
''We've got respect for those guys, players and coaches,'' he said. ''We've got respect for how they do their business and their intensions, and I really think the intensity of the rivalry is based on that respect. We know, regardless of circumstance, we should anticipate their best, and they should anticipate ours.''
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