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fordfixer
12-25-2009, 02:30 AM
Ravens-Steelers Preview
STATS Senior Writer
http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/article ... rs-preview (http://www.sportingnews.com/nfl/article/2009-12-23/ravens-steelers-preview)
Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2009 - 4:45 p.m. ET

The last time the Baltimore Ravens visited the Pittsburgh Steelers, a trip to the Super Bowl was on the line. The stakes aren't quite as prestigious this Sunday, but the game is still significant with both teams simply trying to make the playoffs.

Coming off a second straight easy win over an inferior opponent, the Ravens look to inch closer to clinching a postseason berth against a Steelers team in need of a victory.

With a 31-7 win over Chicago last Sunday, Baltimore (8-6) solidified its hold on a playoff spot. The Ravens can still catch AFC North-leading Cincinnati, but they can also make the playoffs with a win this week, coupled with losses by Jacksonville and the New York Jets.

"We approach the fact that we control our own destiny as a challenge," Baltimore coach John Harbaugh said. "It's well deserved. We have fought through a lot of adversity."

The Jaguars and Jets are two of the six AFC teams all with 7-7 records - a group that includes the Steelers.

Unlike Baltimore, which controls its own fate, Pittsburgh needs a lot of help to reach the playoffs and defend its Super Bowl title.

Because of tiebreakers, the Steelers could win Sunday and then beat Miami in their regular-season finale, yet could still finish behind Baltimore in the wild-card standings as long as the Ravens end their season with a victory at Oakland.

"Not dead yet," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've got a little pulse here."

The Steelers are still in playoff contention thanks to last Sunday's thrilling 37-36 win over Green Bay that snapped a five-game losing streak.

On the game's final play, Ben Roethlisberger completed a desperation 19-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, who barely got his feet down inbounds in the corner of the end zone. Without that improbable ending, Pittsburgh's season likely would have been over.

"It's amazing how one play can change everything," said Roethlisberger, who completed 29 of 46 passes for three touchdowns for a franchise-record 503 yards against a Packers team that entered the game second in total defense.

This doesn't bode well for Baltimore, which could be without two starters in its secondary. Safety Ed Reed has missed the last three games and his return is in question, while rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb tore a ligament in his right knee against the Bears and will miss the remainder of the season.

Roethlisberger has led the Steelers to victory in their last four games against the Ravens, throwing for 901 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. This includes a 23-14 victory in last season's AFC championship game.

Roethlisberger missed the Steelers' 20-17 overtime loss to the Ravens on Nov. 29 with a concussion.

Like Baltimore, the Steelers' defense also has some problems.

Pittsburgh has repeatedly looked tired late in games. Its 121 points allowed in the fourth quarter are the second-most in the league and their 11 TD passes thrown against them in the final 15 minutes are a league high.

Part of the problem stems from an injury to Troy Polamalu, who is expected to miss a sixth consecutive game with a knee problem. The five-time Pro Bowl safety has played in only three games this season - all wins - yet continues to lead the Steelers with three interceptions.

The defense now must try to slow down Joe Flacco, who like Roethlisberger, is also coming off a career game.

Flacco, who passed for 289 yards with a TD against Pittsburgh last month, had a career-high four touchdown passes against the hapless Bears.

The Ravens forced six Chicago turnovers leading to 24 points, one week after setting team records with five rushing touchdowns and 548 total yards in a 48-3 rout of Detroit.

"Definitely, the last couple of weeks, it feels like the tide has turned in our favor," said cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who had two interceptions against Chicago. "We hope we can get momentum going throughout the rest of the season and into the playoffs."

While Baltimore has looked solid in its last two games, those victories came against teams with a combined 7-21 record. The Ravens will probably receive a much bigger test against a Steelers team with a lot more riding on the game.

Baltimore has also had little luck at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001, going just 2-8 there.

"We wouldn't have it any other way. We'd be playing this team at this time with something at stake no matter what," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, when the season started and you talked to our guys at the beginning, (you knew) this game was going to be meaningful. And here we are.

"Maybe it's not the path that we all would have anticipated, but it's the path that got us here."