Ravens resume grudge match with Steelers

OWINGS MILLS -- In the colorful blood feud between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers, this rivalry has featured stomping, punching, taunting and even an idle death threat. Yes, there's been time for some football, too, amidst all the intimidation tactics.

The latest installment of the hard-hitting series includes the heightened stakes of uncontested first place in the AFC North division.

The grudge match between the Ravens (2-0) and the Steelers (2-1) resumes tonight at Heinz Field.

"I think it's a mirror image of two teams that are very physical," linebacker Bart Scott said. "Whenever you've got two rams butting heads, of course there's going to be some animosity because we're pretty much built the same way.

"We know it's going to be a man's day. It's going to be a physical day. Usually, the best team is the team that comes out and lays the wood the hardest."

Last year, Scott threatened to kill Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward after he leveled Scott and free safety Ed Reed with a pair of crushing blocks. He never retracted the statement or apologized.

And Ward rubbed it in a bit this week, claiming that Scott is only angry because a wide receiver knocked a much bigger linebacker off his cleats.

"There's no love lost between each other," Ward said. "They know I'm going to try to hit them and we know they're going to try to hit us. It's one of those times when you go in the weight room and lift a couple of more times."

A year ago, the Ravens were embarrassed by the Steelers in a 38-7 rout on Monday night as they were unable to stop quarterback Ben Roethlisberger from lobbing a franchise-record five touchdown passes with Baltimore cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister sidelined with injuries.

Although the Ravens did win the regular-season finale over Pittsburgh, the Steelers were resting several starters, including Roethlisberger and Ward.

This marks the Ravens' first real chance for payback since that encounter.

"It was lopsided last year, and we obviously don't expect it to be that way this year," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're expecting different things, a different outcome."

It was Heap who was roughly shoved to the ground by former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter in 2004 when he was already hurt with a sprained ankle on the previous play and had to limp to the line of scrimmage. It was widely labeled as a blatant cheap shot.

"They don't like us," Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon told Pittsburgh reporters. "We don't like them. It's going to be a slugfest."

The previous year, Porter's signature boot celebration was imitated by Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis. That enraged Porter, who was recovering from a gunshot wound to his butt, as they argued near the Ravens' team bus.

Of course, nothing tops former Ravens cornerback James Trapp pulling off Plaxico Burress' helmet in 2002 and jumping on top of the wide receiver's stomach, feet first.

"You're going to get hit, talked about, everything else," Steelers offensive guard Kendall Simmons said. "They're going to hit you cheap and do whatever it is, and you've got to be ready for it."

Over the past six years, the Ravens have won the division title twice with the Steelers claiming the AFC North three times.

The Steelers have scored just one touchdown and 16 points since a 38-17 win in the season opener over the Houston Texans and gave up nine sacks in a 15-6 loss last week to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Ravens are undefeated with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco under center even though he has yet to throw a touchdown pass. With the NFL's second-ranked running game, Baltimore is averaging 190 yards on the ground.

"It's going to a good, old-fashioned football game," wide receiver Derrick Mason said.

This figures to be a low-scoring defensive battle as the Ravens have the NFL's top-ranked defense and the Steelers are ranked second overall.

However, Baltimore is missing three defensive starters due to injuries: Rolle, nose guard Kelly Gregg and strong safety Dawan Landry. The Steelers will be without Pro Bowl running back Willie Parker, nose guard Casey Hampton and defensive end Brett Keisel.

The Ravens and the defending champion Steelers have separated themselves as the contenders in the division since the Cincinnati Bengals and the Cleveland Browns have combined for just one victory as the Browns defeated Cincinnati on Sunday.

"Pittsburgh and Baltimore has had something for the last 13 years," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "Always a hard-hitting game, always a physical game, so here we go."

Following a 5-11 record that included a franchise-record nine-game losing streak last season, this represents the Ravens' toughest challenge this year after handling the Bengals and Browns by a combined 45-20 margin in two wins at M&T Bank Stadium.

"We haven't arrived," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "We've played two games against teams that haven't won a game yet. We're going to a hostile environment. You can't protect us like when we're at home.

"It's like you're a little brother and if you get into a fight and you make it to the house, then your big brother can protect you. Now, guess what? The little brother has to go into the woods by himself and find his kill. Now, you get to see what we're made of."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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