Ravens-Redskins' rivalry felt by fans,

OWINGS MILLS -- The close proximity between the Baltimore Ravens and the neighboring Washington Redskins hasn't spawned a bitter rivalry waged over the crowded beltway territories. It usually takes familiarity to breed true contempt, and this one doesn't qualify in that respect.

The Ravens and the Redskins are in separate divisions and rarely play each other.

"This is just another day at the office," Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We know a lot of those guys down there. We're only 45 minutes away, so we always bump into each other. It's going to be a good, fun game."

Tonight's nationally-televised football game at M&T Bank Stadium marks just the fourth time that Baltimore (8-4) and Washington (7-5) have played since the former Cleveland Browns' relaunch in Maryland in 1996. The Ravens have won two of the three previous meetings, and this is the first time the Redskins have traveled to Baltimore for a regular-season game.

Although bragging rights are nice for the fans to lord over, the heightened playoff stakes are the tangible prize the players are contesting and actually care about.

"Yeah, this is a rivalry game, but we can't get caught up in that because for them and for us this is a game that can push us into the playoffs and we're not caught up in this rivalry type of thing," Ravens free safety Ed Reed said. "We know it's there, probably more for the fans. But I'm sure the players will definitely get into it a little bit."

The Ravens and Redskins' respective stadiums are separated by just 32 miles, but there's always been a larger divide between the fans.

Baltimore has always embraced its blue-collar mentality and resented Washington, a buttoned-down power center.

The majority of area residents have eschewed the Redskins since the departure of the Colts and believe the perception of late Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke blocking Baltimore from getting a new team for several years.

Yet, the fans won't be the ones out there blocking and tackling. So, that sentiment is somewhat irrelevant, according to Redskins center Casey Rabach, who spent four seasons with the Ravens.

"Seriously, we see each other so little that I think it's more for the fans, the bragging rights, the fact that the two cities are in close proximity to each other," Rabach told Washington reporters. "It's hard to say it's a rivalry. We have some deep rivalries with people in our division, and they do the same.

"From the players' standpoint, I don't know if there's as much of a rivalry as it is for the fans. I think the Baltimore fans dislike the Redskins a little bit more than vice versa. When Baltimore lost the Colts, they didn't have a team to root for. They definitely weren't going to root for Washington."

The resurgent Ravens enter this game holding superior momentum, having won six of their past seven games in convincing fashion.

The Ravens are averaging a league-high 30.6 points over that span as rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown 11 touchdown passes with just two interceptions.

Under rookie coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore ranks just one game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North title race and would make the playoffs if the regular season was already complete.

"I can understand from a fan's perspective of what it means to them," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I can understand the situation that happened long ago when the Baltimore Colts ended up leaving and those Washington Redskins fans were trying to get the Baltimore fans to come down there.

"I can understand once the team came back, I can understand the dynamic between that. But for us, it's another game and another opportunity to reach our goal. That's for the team to win football games and to continue to become a stronger team."

Meanwhile, the Redskins' backs are against the wall in their quest to make the playoffs in coach Jim Zorn's first season. Washington has lost three of its past four games since an encouraging 6-2 start.

Despite attempts to hype up a game that was shifted by NBC and the league office to prime time under the flexible scheduling program, the ingredients for a spicy game exist beyond any artificial flavoring.

The Redskins' chief rivalry is with the Dallas Cowboys, and the Ravens despise the Steelers.

"I don't know if I can rile it up inside of me," Zorn said. "I just look at their football team and that should be enough for me to get all fired up, but not from a rivalry or a hate standpoint."

Zorn is correct that the Ravens represent a mighty challenge.

Their offense is finally clicking after years of dormancy. Their second-ranked defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in 10 quarters.

"We don't talk about it," Suggs said. "It's kind of like the pitcher when he's throwing the no-hitter, you don't talk about it. We're just going to keep churning away."

The Redskins counter with hard-running, but banged-up running back Clinton Portis, a usually cautious passing game led by quarterback Jason Campbell and speedy receiver Santana Moss as well as a stellar secondary.

That makes this a strong matchup worthy of national viewing, but it didn't make Flacco any less sheepish when asked why he was wearing a "Battle of the Beltway" T-shirt.

"They made me wear it," he said.

The Ravens would face the New York Jets in the playoffs as a wild-card entry if the season ended today. However, they're just one game ahead of the New England Patriots in the wild-card race.

The Ravens play the Steelers next week, and are hoping to win three of their final four games.

One week after a 34-3 rout of the pitiful Cincinnati Bengals, a legitimate opponent is coming to town.

"It's going to be a playoff type atmosphere," Mason said. "Anyone who says different will be just trying to fool you guys. They've got a lot on the line, and we do also because we're still in the hunt for a place in the playoffs.

"So, we're going to go out there and play as if our football lives depend on it. It's going to be a playoff type atmosphere. If it's not, a lot of people will be disappointed."

After seeming reluctant most of the week to discuss the ramifications of a rivalry with the Redskins, Harbaugh was willing to play along in the interest of good will toward the rabid fan bases.

"It's going to be that backyard kind of rivalry," Harbaugh said. "I think our guys and our coaching staff are excited to be representing Baltimore, and we're looking forward to doing that."

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