|Happy homecoming? Ravens don't like being Steelers' birthday present|
|Written by Admin|
|Saturday, 03 November 2007 02:19|
For years, the AFC North rivals have needed only to see the other's name on their schedule to know this was a special week. If it wasn't Ray Lewis or Joey Porter badmouthing the other, there was always some perceived slight or said-in-anger comment that got the other team going.
It's the AFC's most-played rivalry, if one goes back to the pre-1996 days when the Ravens were the Cleveland Browns, and the games usually are edgy, physical and emotional. Loud, too, and that's only the noise coming from the locker rooms.
No one on either side expects anything different when Baltimore (4-3) and Pittsburgh (5-2) meet for the division lead Monday night in what essentially is the Steelers' 75th birthday party.
``The dislike is probably something that sizzles and sells,'' new Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.
If the Ravens beat Pittsburgh for the fourth time in a row, the AFC North will be wide open with the second half of the season to play. Should the Steelers win and go two games up on Baltimore, the Ravens must start playing a catch-up game they might never win.
``It's the Baltimore Ravens, and you know what you're going to get,'' Steelers right tackle Willie Colon said. ``They've got Ed Reed, Chris McAlister, Ray Lewis, high intensity guys. They play hard, they play aggressive ... they're just like us.''
Two teams built on run-heavy offenses and nasty defenses - the Steelers and Ravens are 1-2, respectively, in the league in fewest yards allowed - don't need phonebook-thick scouting reports to know what this game is about.
The team that runs the ball more effectively, keeps its offense on the field longer and makes enough big plays to keep drives going is almost certain to win. Ravens-Steelers games are usually like that, with a lot of angry words and big hits tossed in, too.
``Baltimore's coming to town? No love lost there,'' Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward said.
The Ravens, suddenly the underdog after dominating Pittsburgh twice by a combined score of 58-7 last season, seemingly have plenty enough incentive to win. Not only can they climb back into the division race, they will welcome back a number of their injured starters, including tackle Jonathan Ogden, cornerback McAlister, quarterback Steve McNair and defensive end Trevor Pryce.
Almost at full strength for the first time all season, the Ravens believe the Steelers long ago circled this game on their schedule as beat up-on-Baltimore night.
The Steelers are bringing back the living members of their 75th anniversary all-time team for a halftime ceremony and a celebratory dinner Sunday night. Steelers owner Dan Rooney even has a 75th birthday book coming out.
To the Ravens, it seems suspiciously like their days back at good old Alma Mater U. when some patsy was brought in each season and served up for the alumni to enjoy on a festive Saturday afternoon.
``We look at it as we have been scheduled for their homecoming,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. ``Ohio State and Michigan seem to schedule Northwestern a lot for homecoming, and I say that with a daughter who graduated from Northwestern. ... That's great.''
Homecoming or not, the Steelers need much better games than they got last season from Ben Roethlisberger, who was sacked 14 times and threw four interceptions in the two Baltimore losses, and ace running back Willie Parker, who was held to 51 yards on 23 carries.
Conversely, the Ravens badly need McNair to give them a downfield throwing threat who will prevent the Steelers from stacking the line to slow Willis McGahee, who is third in the league with 639 yards rushing.
McGahee ran for 114 yards and a score in Baltimore's last game, a 19-14 loss to Buffalo on Oct. 21, but backup QB Kyle Boller got the Ravens into the end zone only one other time. McNair, 11-4 in his career against Pittsburgh, has almost always given the Steelers problems.
Billick thinks these Ravens potentially are as good as those that went 13-3 and won the division by five games last season, and this game may tell him if that is really so.
``We can kind of put a team on the field that we envisioned happening at the beginning of the season, but haven't had since the opener,'' Billick said.
By winning, the Steelers wouldn't make up for last season's domination by Baltimore, but they could send a signal they're back to being the division's bully.
``What happened last year happened last year,'' said Hines Ward, who sees no carry-over. ``It wasn't a great year. Right now it's another divisional game for us, a chance to separate ourselves from the rest of the division.''