Plenty on line for Steelers against Ravens
There are close rivals in proximity. Then there are close rivals — and even in the parity-is-preferred NFL, there is no rivalry like that of Steelers vs. Ravens.
Their last game, the Steelers' 20-17 win Oct. 20, was determined by three points — fittingly because nearly every Pittsburgh-Baltimore game winds up with such a margin.
Eight of the past nine and nine of the past 11 games ended with a field-goal difference. Often the matchups decided division titles, playoff berths or postseason seedings.
“It's just an intense rivalry,” Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said. “Great defense is played. I think everyone understands the urgency of the game. It's just iron on iron. It's always a tough battle, and it always comes to the fourth quarter and to the end of the game.”
The Steelers must search through dusty record books for recent meaningful games against teams such as the Cleveland Browns, but nearly every Ravens game takes on great significance. Naturally the Thanksgiving night game at M&T Bank Stadium between two teams that mirror each other in mentality, physicality and performance means a lot.
It might mean everything.
“It's two very proud football teams, proud franchises in the same division, same conference, and we know each other,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “It's alarming, when you look at the scores, how many three-point games there have been. I think there is every reason to anticipate this will be a three-point game.”
LeBeau has spent more than a half-century in the NFL as a Hall of Fame player and coach, and he said this is the closest rivalry over an extended period he can remember.
“It's always going to be pretty close,” he said.
Despite the teams owning 5-6 records, this game is one of the biggest the Steelers and Ravens have played because it might ultimately eliminate one from the playoffs.
“We need this game,” Steelers linebacker Jarvis Jones said. “It's a must-win for us. We need to win it, and that's how I look at it. It's going to be a big game and probably a close game.”
The Steelers are hotter than the Ravens, winning three in a row and five of seven. The Ravens have dropped four of six. But recent results often mean nothing in a rivalry in which there have been only four season series sweeps since 2000.
The rivalry has grown tighter since the Steelers' Super Bowl-winning 2008 season in which they beat Baltimore in the AFC title game. The Steelers have six wins, the Ravens five. The Ravens average 18.5 points, the Steelers 16.5. The Steelers average 299.5 yards, the Ravens 296.9.
“Every game is a huge game, but obviously playing Pittsburgh there is always a sense that this is going to be a very physical game,” Ravens running back Ray Rice said.
The Ravens have won eight of their past nine at home against AFC North opponents, but the lone loss was to the Charlie Batch-led Steelers last season.
“Our record hasn't been what it is at this point in years past, but we've still been in the same situation,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
He could be speaking just as easily for the Steelers, whose key to victory might be figuring out a way to get into the end zone against a Ravens defense that has allowed only 11 touchdowns in 10 games since the season-opening, 49-27 loss at Denver.
“Every game gets bigger and bigger as you win them,” Steelers right guard David DeCastro said. “Baltimore is always big.”
And always close.