Heartbreak At Heinz

The Steelers Are Looking Vulnerable, And The Stakes Are High. Seems Like A Good Time For The Ravens To Do Something They've Done Just Once In Their Past Nine Tries: Win In Pittsburgh

December 27, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

PITTSBURGH -Today's grudge match against the Pittsburgh Steelers offers the Ravens a chance to move closer to the NFL playoffs and an opportunity to move past years of bad memories.

For Ray Lewis and the Ravens, Heinz Field has become the ultimate roadblock.

The Ravens' Super Bowl aspirations ended here 11 months ago in the AFC championship game. Their hopes of repeating as Super Bowl champions were squashed here nearly eight years ago in an AFC divisional playoff game.

Eight of their past nine trips to Heinz Field have left the Ravens with bruises, heartache and feelings of what might have been. And these feelings have been quietly simmering within the Ravens.

"I've kept that taste in my mouth the whole time [since] losing the AFC championship in Pittsburgh," Lewis said. "But do you remind people about it? Absolutely not. You move on, and we understand where we're trying to go as a team and where they're trying to go as a team."

Where the Ravens are trying to go is the postseason. The Ravens (8-6) will clinch a playoff berth if they win their final two regular-season games. They can also take pleasure in knocking the defending Super Bowl champions out of the playoff hunt.

Whether it's spoken or unspoken, winning at Heinz for just the second time since 2002 would be significant for the Ravens.

"I think a win removes a taste that we didn't go to the Super Bowl, bottom line," Lewis said. "That's what a win does."

In 2001, the Ravens were the first visiting team to win at Heinz Field. That landmark victory was followed by five straight losses there. After the Ravens won at Heinz in 2006, they have lost three in a row.

The Ravens' eight losses in Pittsburgh since 2002 have been by an average of 12.5 points. The Ravens haven't lost more games anywhere else during that time.

"Probably certain teams have had trouble winning in certain places," coach John Harbaugh said. "It usually has to do more with who you're playing than the place. And the Steelers have been a good team for a long time, so they've been tough to beat in Heinz Field. But they've been tough to beat everywhere."

Harbaugh added: "We're pretty comfortable there because we've been there a lot. So, it's not like we don't know where the locker room is. It's a pretty normal place for us to be."

Asked whether the Steelers have a mental edge over the Ravens at Heinz, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said: "You're trying to get me to put some billboard material up, huh? You guys are not going to get me on that."

Maybe a change in players will result in a change in fortunes. There could be as many as 11 starters different from those in the AFC championship game Jan. 18.

Some players say history won't be a factor because this is a different team and different circumstances.

"This year is this year; last year was last year," Ravens wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We can't pull anything from last year. We can't dwell on last year. Going back into that stadium for us is just another opportunity to get closer to the playoffs."

Unlike their last game at Heinz Field, these two teams aren't fighting for a chance to get to the Super Bowl. They are fighting for their playoff lives.

And these teams share some familiar traits:

* Both teams have quarterbacks coming off career games.

The Ravens' Joe Flacco threw a career-high four touchdown passes and recorded a career-best 135.6 quarterback rating in a 31-7 rout of the Chicago Bears.

Roethlisberger passed for a franchise-record 503 yards and threw for the game-winning, 19-yard touchdown as time expired.

"He's made those plays against us, in the Super Bowl, and again last week," Ravens linebacker-defensive end Terrell Suggs said.

* Both have beaten-up secondaries and injured Pro Bowl safeties (Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu).

Quarterbacks have pounded the Steelers' weak defensive backfield, averaging 263.6 passing yards the past five games. During that stretch, Pittsburgh has allowed nine passing touchdowns and made no interceptions.

Injuries - not quarterbacks - have taken a toll on the Ravens' secondary. With two starting cornerbacks on injured reserve (Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb), the Ravens will be starting their third player at left cornerback (Chris Carr).

"We're a deep team," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "I expect the same thing to happen in the secondary. Webb stepped up when Fabe went down. Now, with Webb down, somebody else has to step up. It's the Ravens' way."

* And both teams share conflicting feelings toward each other.

Asked whether there was hatred or a mutual respect between the two AFC North rivals, Lewis said: "I think it's kind of a little bit of both. We know who we play against. It's just the way it is. It's going to be personal."

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