Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) dives into the end zone for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Baltimore Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (55) on November 6, 2016, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, MD. where the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 21-14. (Photo by Mark Goldman/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH -- In his short NFL career, David DeCastro has accomplished much. The 26-year old was a first-round pick, he’s played in the playoffs, the Pro Bowl and earned All-Pro honors.
Besides winning the Super Bowl, of course, there’s another thing he’d like to add to his already impressive resume: Play in a meaningless Week 17 game.
“Would be nice,” DeCastro said after the Steelers’ 24-20 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
If the Steelers can win at home on Christmas Day, it would not only give them the AFC North title and clinch a playoff berth, it would render their regular-season finale against Cleveland on New Year’s Day a moot point.
For a team that has no shortage of injuries, including two more potentially big ones sustained in Cincinnati, a well-earned rest would be much appreciated.
To do that, all the Steelers need to do is beat the Baltimore Ravens this week.
Therein lies the problem.
The Steelers haven’t beaten Baltimore since Nov. 2, 2014, or a span of two years, one month and 23 days. In that time, the Ravens have tormented the Steelers four times, including an AFC wild card game at Heinz Field two years ago and just seven weeks ago when Baltimore held Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense to a season-low 277 total yards.
Though technically not a postseason game, this Sunday’s loser is likely to be eliminated from playoff contention (or needing a lot of help to get in). If nothing else, it should add yet another intriguing chapter in the long-running Pittsburgh-Baltimore saga.
Despite all the venom and cheap-shots thrown in Cincinnati, the Steelers have long maintained that their biggest rivalry is not with the Bengals, but with Baltimore. Suitably, the Steelers say, they should meet the Ravens with their season potentially at stake.
“That’s pretty fitting,” DeCastro said. “It’s a team we haven’t been able to beat or have much success with lately. We have them at home, it’s going to be a huge game.”
The Steelers will enter Week 16 on a five-game winning streak, their longest since 2009. Beginning with their win at M&T Bank Stadium over the Steelers, the Ravens have won five of seven and are a game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North with a chance to tie, while holding both of the tie-breakers.
While the Ravens have averaged 29.3 points over their last three games, Baltimore has -- in vintage fashion -- staked its claim on defense and their ability to stop the run. In their last meeting, the Ravens held Le’Veon Bell to just 32 rushing yards on 14 carries. Baltimore boasts the NFL’s second-ranked run defense (82.1 yards per game), while Pittsburgh -- which hasn’t allowed 100 or more during their current streak -- is fourth (89.1).
“Who says anyone’s impossible to run on?” said Steelers right tackle Marcus Gilbert. “We’ll see. If they play a game of chess, that’s what we’re going to do. We lost the first game. This game is going to be on our field. We have to come out and dominate.
“This is a good (Ravens) team. I’m looking forward to it. They have great players on both sides of the ball and we do, too. Whoever runs the ball good, protects the quarterback better and plays better on special teams … The most physical team ends up winning.”
Unfortunately for the Steelers, they could be shorthanded against the Ravens.
Tight end Ladarius Green, who was finally starting to emerge as another offensive weapon in the Steelers’ arsenal, sustained an apparent concussion late in Sunday's win. The defensive line, with Cam Heyward already out, could be without fellow starter Stephon Tuitt, who suffered a knee injury in the first quarter at Cincinnati. Coach Mike Tomlin is expected to give an update on both injured players’ status Tuesday during his weekly press conference, but the loss of one -- or both -- could be catastrophic.
And that’s to say nothing of players like DeCastro, who was out briefly during the Bengals game with an arm or shoulder injury, which he wasn’t revealing. How do the Steelers rebound physically and emotionally from a game against their second-biggest rival to their biggest rival in a week?
“We’ll find a way,” DeCastro said. “It’s that time of the season where you feel like you’re sleeping a little more, a little more tired, taking a little longer to heal up.
“It’s Ravens week. We’ll be ready to go, no excuses.”