View Full Version : Ravens-Steelers insist no better rivalry exists in NFL

10-02-2010, 11:27 PM
Ravens-Steelers insist no better rivalry exists in NFL
October 01, 2010 01:42 AM
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Herald Standard

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The Ravens-Steelers rivalry is short in length, starting only in 1996. The memories it has already created seem inordinately long, especially in the minds of those who played in compelling games that were tight and tense, absorbed hits that hurt for weeks and sustained losses that ended seasons.

The Ravens ridiculing Plaxico Burress as being "Plexiglas." Joey Porter leveling a near-defenseless Todd Heap. Troy Polamalu running through half of Baltimore on an interception that sent the Steelers to the Super Bowl. Alleged bounties posted by the Ravens against the much-despised Hines Ward. Tons of trash talking. Ray Lewis ending Rashard Mendenhall's rookie season with a hit that be could be heard in Heinz Field's upper deck.

Pick any adjective: nasty, spiteful, hateful - they all apply. With apologies to the Packers-Bears, Cowboys-Redskins and Giants-Eagles, Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls it the NFL's best rivalry, if only because all its games are the same. They're close and physical beyond compare, with neither team straying from a game plan that demands ultra-tight defense and a strong running game.

It's too early for a must-win game in the AFC North, but Sunday's Ravens-Steelers matchup at Heinz Field is as close as it gets during the first weekend of October.

"There's nothing like it," said Lewis, the Ravens linebacker and longtime Pittsburgh antagonist. "There's nothing like when they come here and we go there. We know what we're going to get and neither side is going to disappoint each other."

The Steelers respect the Ravens because they're so much like them; the Ravens respect the Steelers because there never are easy games against them. Baltimore's personality is reflected by Ray Lewis' relentlessness, the Steelers' by James Harrison's nastiness.

"I hate the Ravens more than I do anybody else," Harrison said. "I hate losing to anybody, but to them it's a lot worse."

The Steelers (3-0) are unexpectedly thriving rather than surviving during quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension, and only the Ravens can prevent them from going undefeated during a stretch that could have derailed their season. The Ravens (2-1) risk falling two games out of the division lead only a month into the season by losing, and with Pittsburgh about to regain its most skilled offensive player.

Still, the pregame verbiage was unusually tame, the taunting minimal, with both sides repeatedly citing the same word: respect. Lewis even acknowledged that he and Roethlisberger are regular texting buddies, a rival-befriends-enemy concept that likely surprised fans on both sides.

About the only words that seemed close to braggadocio came from Steelers safety Ryan Clark, who said those mean, old Ravens don't frighten him.

"I mean, this is a football game, you know?" Clark said. "To me, the Ravens are just another football team. They don't come in here wearing a cape to me. I'm not scared that they're going to take my lunch money."

But the Ravens can take sole possession of the division lead away from the Steelers by winning in Pittsburgh for only the second time in 11 games there. Baltimore's defense is the NFL's best through three games, and the Ravens want to pressure fill-in quarterback Charlie Batch into making mistakes than can create points.

"We're almost illegal now the way we play," Lewis said, referring to defenses that allow the fewest yards (Baltimore) and fewest points (Pittsburgh) in the league.

Batch, No. 4 on the depth chart during training camp, doesn't remember being knocked off his feet during a 38-13 victory at Tampa Bay last week in which he threw his first three touchdown passes in nearly three seasons. He's not likely to stay so upright against Baltimore, which wants to put Pittsburgh into long-yardage downs that will force Batch to throw into coverage rather than hand off to Mendenhall, who averages nearly 111 yards per game. Baltimore is suspect against the run, permitting 4.7 yards per carry.

Similarly, the Steelers understand they can't give Joe Flacco the time to repeatedly locate Anquan Boldin, the star-quality receiver Flacco previously lacked. Flacco and Boldin hooked up three times for touchdowns during a 24-17 victory over Cleveland, and they could gain room to operate if running back Ray Rice loosens up the Steelers' defense.

Rice ran for 141 yards in Pittsburgh in December, the first 100-yard game against the Steelers in two seasons, but he is bothered by a bruised knee that could limit his effectiveness.

The Steelers are missing Santonio Holmes, the former Super Bowl MVP who had eight TD catches in seven games against Baltimore from 2007-09 before being traded.

His replacement, Mike Wallace, took advantage of Batch's well-rested throwing arm to make two touchdown catches of 40 yards-plus against Tampa Bay.

"I really haven't seen much difference in them," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Boldin, who played against Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl two seasons ago, will soon learn if there's a difference between this rivalry and others in the NFL. He's read about it, now he's about to see it - and hear it - for the first time.

"I've been warned about it," he said. "I've been told it's like no other game."