Ravens: 'Nobody's running or ducking'

OWINGS MILLS -- The lock of the week involving the Baltimore Ravens' latest blood feud against their despised rival Pittsburgh Steelers doesn't deal with the traditional brand of predictions or point spreads.

It's an extremely safe bet, though, to bank on punishing hits that resemble the impact of car wrecks, broken bones, bloody elbows, scarred helmets and enough blue language to fill up dozens of swear jars. It's a football game that feels like a heavyweight boxing match.

As the Ravens (13-5) prepare to play the Steelers (13-4) in Sunday's AFC title game at Heinz Field, the personality of two hard-nosed football teams from two blue-collar cities will be on display for the entire nation to witness. The roughest of backyard brawls is back on with two bullies are ready to knuckle up and flex their muscles.

The winner of this showdown goes to the Super Bowl. The loser of this fight slinks home to lick its wounds.

"You have two teams that play the older style of football, it's not the high-wire act you see now," linebacker Bart Scott said. "You have two teams that try to impose their will on each other. When you have two teams that are evenly matched, both sides want to make you pay the price on the body. Nobody's running or ducking."

For the Ravens, it's yet another encounter where they'll roll up their sleeves, slap on the eye black and tightly buckle up their chin straps. And it's one week removed from an ultra-physical 13-10 AFC divisional playoff victory over the Tennessee Titans that left the Ravens and their opponent black and blue. To topple the Steelers, the Ravens will need to summon their will one more time against a team that swept the regular-season series by a total of seven points.

"It's two football teams that play a certain brand of football," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "It's physical football. It's fundamental. It's a very disciplined style of football. It's going to be a physical match, just like we had last week. That's the beauty of the NFL."

In a series that has featured past allegations of the Ravens placing bounties on Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall, Scott's death threat last year against Ward for what he felt was a cheap-shot block that sent him sprawling and former Baltimore cornerback James Trapp's flying stomp on Plaxico Burress' helmet several years ago, the enmity rivals the brutality. With the raised stakes contained within this combustible matchup, the Ravens are relishing the chance to advance to the ultimate football game at the Steelers' expense.

"If you20want to go to the Super Bowl, who else would you rather it be but the Pittsburgh Steelers?" Scott said.=2 0"It's an opportunity for one organization to build up the level of hatred for the other organization. Somebody is going to be happy, somebody is going to be hurt. What other team would you rather do it to?"

It's a worthy point. Especially considering that the Ravens owe the Steelers some payback after falling 23-20 in overtime and 13-9 behind a controversial last-minute touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.

"It was tough," Scott said. "It was bitter."

Added Mason: It's good to get an opportunity to play a team that's beaten you once or twice to get a chance to try to redeem yourself. Hopefully for us, the third time is the charm."

And the latest loss was extremely hard to accept given that it remains debatable whether the football actually broke the plane of the goal when Holmes got both feet down and secured the catch to win the game in Baltimore last month.

"We don't think we have anything to make up for, we're proud of the way we played in those two games," Harbaugh said. "As far as whether the ball broke the plane or not, that's ancient history. We don't care about that."

Yet, the revenge factor is a legitimate motivational factor. It's only overridden by the heightened stakes at work here.

"What's on the line? It's just the Super Bowl," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "They're going to get our best and we're going to get their best. It's been that way both times we played them. They know what type of ballgame it might be."

Scott said he spent Sunday drifting in and out of consciousness, alternately watching the Steelers play while recovering from the collisions of the Titans game the night before.

When he was awake and while his teammates were hanging out at area restaurants and bars to watch the game, they found themselves in the unusual position of cheering on the Steelers in their 35-24 win over the San Diego Chargers.

"We were kind of hoping," Scott said. "You have to appreciate the way they play, I love the way they play. You want to play the best, and I think they are the best right now. You want the opportunity to prove yourself against the best. You want to test yourself. We look forward to it. We didn't want to go to San Diego.

"In games like this when the stakes are high, it's all about who's going to make that play to push your team over the top. We both have capable playmakers on both sides of the ball. It's going to be a tough one."

In his first season in Baltimore, strong safety Jim Leonhard has quickly been indoctrinated into the Ravens-Steelers lore. After playing for the Buffalo Bills to begin his NFL career, Leonhard has gained an appreciation for how much these games mean between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

"It's a very physical rivalry, it's obvious that the teams don't like each other," Leonhard sa id. "Being here, it's the same thing. You know the people a little more and the history that's behind it.

"These games are what they're expected to be. There's a lot of talking, a lot of things going on. You know that you have to play 60 minutes that day or you're going to get it handed to you."

Of course, it's generally difficult for any NFL team to defeat another three times in one season. The 1994 Steelers beat the Cleveland Browns three times that year.

What do the Ravens need to change to win this time?

"I'm sure there will be new wrinkles on both sides and a lot of the same on both sides," Harbaugh said. "When we played the Titans the second time, there were a lot of new wrinkles and a lot of the same. It's going to be a football game. Whoever plays the best and makes the most important plays is going to win the game."

Mason said he's hoping the harsh elements match the roughneck style on a sloppy field, wishing for cold temperatures and plenty of precipitation.

And the veteran receiver is looking to send one more defining message concerning what the Ravens are all about after going 5-11 a year ago and finishing in last place in the AFC North.

"Coming off the season we did, not too many people picked us to be in the situation we're in today," Mason said. "We wanted to slowly but surely make a statement that everyone understands we're the Baltimore Ravens, and each and every time you play=2 0us you're going to realize that.

"That's what we preach every time we come out of the locker room. We want to make everyone realize that this team you're about to fight, you might not want a piece of."

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