Bitter rival separates Baltimore, Super Bowl

Ravens' unlikely march toward Tampa runs through Pittsburgh

January 12, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

Having forged an unlikely path to the NFL playoffs, the resilient Ravens will take the familiar road to Pittsburgh for Sunday's AFC Championship game.

The Steelers, the Ravens' most bitter rivals, represent the last obstacle in Baltimore's bid to return to the Super Bowl for the first time in eight years. Pittsburgh became the only home team to win in this weekend's divisional playoff round, beating the San Diego Chargers yesterday, 35-24.

The Ravens (13-5) will play the Steelers (13-4) for the third time this season at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Heinz Field for the right to advance to the Super Bowl in Tampa, Fla., on Feb. 1.

The warm glow of the Ravens' 13-10 victory over the Tennessee Titans on Saturday had not worn off around Baltimore yesterday. Anywhere you traveled, be it to malls or simply going to church, Ravens purple reigned. Fans wore Ravens jerseys, sweat shirts and jackets, while cars went by with Ravens flags struggling against the wind.

For fans planning to travel to Pittsburgh for the game, tickets are likely to be in short supply because the NFL is making few, if any, available to the public. On premium ticket sites such as StubHub, razorgator, findticketsfast.com and ticketzoom.com, prices ranged from $140 to $2,200 last night.

Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said after Saturday's victory that the team "can't wait for next week." When you consider that the Ravens were 5-11 last year - and have a new head coach and a rookie quarterback - being one win from the Super Bowl seems improbable.

"Not everybody gets to play in the AFC Championship," Suggs said. "There is something special going on around here. We aren't going to say what it is until we find out where the road ends. We are feeling really good."

Pittsburgh swept the regular season series against the Ravens, winning at home on Sept. 29 in overtime, 23-20, and in Baltimore on Dec. 14, 13-9.

The Ravens' last victory at Heinz Field was on Christmas Eve 2006, when Steve McNair threw three touchdown passes in a 31-7 rout. But they have lost seven of their last eight games in Pittsburgh and are just 4-10 in their 13-year history there.

The Ravens-Steelers rivalry, which matches a grinding, physical style of football, has been known for occasional cheap shots, game-changing turnovers and questionable officiating calls.

This season's series produced a little of everything.

In Week 4, the Ravens held a 13-3 lead in the third quarter before Pittsburgh scored 14 points in the span of 15 seconds on the game clock. First, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a 38-yard touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.

Then, on the Ravens' first play after the kickoff, quarterback Joe Flacco fumbled the ball and Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley returned it seven yards for a touchdown.

Even though the Ravens came back to tie the game in the fourth quarter, Pittsburgh pulled out the win on 46-yard field goal by Jeff Reed.

In Week 15, the Ravens once again led, 9-3, before the Steelers rallied for 10 fourth-quarter points. Their game-winning touchdown came on a controversial 4-yard touchdown pass to Holmes and only with the aid of replay.

The ball was originally ruled short of the goal line by officials. But they changed that call to a touchdown after a replay review. Pittsburgh's game-winning drive covered 92 yards, nevertheless.

"I don't think they can beat us three times in a year," Dick Yost, a Ravens fan from Keedysville in Washington County, said yesterday. "The way they've won the last two, by just a few points, we can beat them.

"I've never been a Steelers fan. I just want to put them out of it."

For the second straight week, the Ravens were well-supported on the road by their fans. Bill Gereny, a Westminster businessman, was in the contingent that made its way to Nashville for Saturday's 13-10 victory over the Titans.

"Downtown [Nashville] was colored purple," he said.

Gereny expects the Ravens to wind up returning to Tampa, the site of their 2001 Super Bowl victory.

"Absolutely. We had several players hurt [Saturday], but if we can get through the next game, we have two weeks to heal," he said. "We can win it all.

"The Ravens are the team to beat."

Ravens @Steelers

Heinz Field,

Pittsburgh

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

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