Ravens, Steelers renew fierce rivalry

PITTSBURGH -- Brutal hits that trigger knockouts as devastating as a heavyweight boxing match. Harsh taunts and more than enough swagger to rival anything in the staged spectacle of professional wrestling.

It's the blood rivalry between the Baltimore Ravens and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

As mutually contemptuous as any annual competition in the NFL, the Ravens (8-6) and the Steelers (7-7) meet again today at Heinz Field with high stakes and raw emotions ratcheting up the tenor of this bitter feud.

With weather forecasts of cold, nasty weather, the elements should match the grim expressions on the field as a serious battle for a playoff spot unfolds between the two AFC North traditional powers.

"It's not fake, it's real," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "We don't like them, they don't like us. They would like nothing more than to make it more difficult for us to make in the playoffs, and vice versa."

One year removed from the Steelers delighting in expelling Baltimore from the postseason in an AFC championship game victory that propelled them to a Super Bowl title, they remain the familiar obstacle in the Ravens' path one more time.

During their return to Pittsburgh for the first time since that fateful day when quarterback Joe Flacco was intercepted three times, the Ravens can potentially position themselves for a playoff berth with a win.

If the Ravens win their final two games of the regular season on the road at Pittsburgh and at the Oakland Raiders, then they're assured of making the playoffs for the second year in a row under coach John Harbaugh.

And they can clinch a ticket to the postseason today if they win coupled by losses by the Jacksonville Jaguars as well as either the New York Jets or the Denver Broncos losing. Another scenario that triggers a playoff trip is a Ravens win plus losses by the Miami Dolphins, Jets and Broncos.

"I think it's the premier rivalry in the NFL," Harbaugh said. "You can never plan the path, you hope it goes a certain way and then it goes another, but here we are facing each other with so much at stake again."

The Steelers' playoff chances are practically on life support.

And the Ravens would like nothing more than to extinguish the Steelers' flame by handing them their sixth loss in the past seven games.

A Pittsburgh loss would end their playoff hopes.

A win, plus help, could get the reigning Super Bowl champions back into the postseason.

"They're like Jason [Voorhees of the Friday the 13th horror film series]," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "That team is a bunch of tough dudes. I don't care what kind of year they've had, you have to beat Pittsburgh to get to the playoffs.

"That's what you want, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, going at it for a spot in the playoffs.

Absolutely, it's always good to beat them especially in their place. With the playoffs on the line, it's more."

"We wouldn't have it any other way," Harbaugh said. "We'd be playing this team at this time with something at stake no matter what.

Obviously, when the season started and you talked to our guys at the beginning, this game was going to be meaningful.

"And here we are. Maybe it's not the path that we all would have anticipated, but it's the path that got us here."

Following the Steelers' dramatic 37-36 win over the Green Bay Packers triggered by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's heroic 503 passing yards punctuated by his last-season touchdown pass to Mike Wallace, Pittsburgh is alive in the playoff race.

"Not dead yet," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "We've still got a little pulse here."

Meanwhile, the Ravens are operating at a much higher level than just above zombie status.

They're practically vibrant with consecutive victories by a combined margin of 48-3 and 31-7 over two inferior teams: the Detroit Lions and the Chicago Bears, teams with a combined record of 7-21.

They're also the owners of a 20-17 overtime victory over the Steelers last month that broke a three-game losing streak to Pittsburgh dating back to last season.

That win was against former third-string quarterback Dennis Dixon, though, with Roethlisberger out with a concussion.

This matchup figures to be much more demanding with Roethlisberger on top of his game and the Ravens heading back to an unfriendly environment at the home of the Terrible Towels.

"The bottom line is they know how tough this game is going to be and we know how tough this game is going to be," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said.

"It always come down to being a classic game. It's going to be personal.

"Whether you're friends or not, even when you were in the schoolyard, winning is winning.

Beating somebody is beating somebody. To my young guys, the words I keep using are, ‘Here we go again.' You can't do anything but appreciate these types of moments."

Both of the teams will be missing their star safeties with the Steelers' Troy Polamalu out with a knee injury for the sixth game in a row.

The Ravens are expecting to not have former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed on the field today due to a groin injury as he's listed as doubtful and didn't practice all week.

Plus, cornerback Chris Carr gets his first start of the season today with rookie Lardarius Webb out for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The Steelers have looked extremely vulnerable without Polamalu, allowing an NFL-high 11 touchdown passes in the fourth quarter with only eight interceptions for the season and none by their suspect cornerbacks.

The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 121 points allowed in the fourth quarter overall. And the Ravens have actually played better without Reed as they've intercepted eight passes in the past three games without him.

The Ravens have lost eight of their past nine games in Pittsburgh.

And they haven't forgotten how it felt to come within one step of the Super Bowl only to be knocked out by the Steelers with running back Willis McGahee.

"You can't take back that feeling, but it's a new year," all-purpose running back Ray Rice said. "We've hit our stride, and we're going into this game with an opportunity to really control our destiny."

Over the years, this game has featured incidents such as James Trapp stomping on Steelers wide receiver Plaxico Burress' chest, Ray Lewis and Joey Porter getting in a verbal confrontation outside the Ravens' team bus and former Ravens linebacker Bart Scott making death threats to Hines Ward after being upended on a vicious crackback block since outlawed by the NFL.

So, here comes another round in this street fight. Ring the bell.

"It's a heated rivalry," outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "It's a fun rivalry. You gotta love to play in this game, especially in December."


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