A trip to the AFC championship game and a shot at redemption await the Ravens in Saturday's divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh.
Everyone in the Ravens locker room knows the reason why they have to play at Heinz Field is because they failed to finish off their biggest rival 37 days ago.
The Ravens have since won five straight games — which is currently the second-longest winning streak in the NFL — but the players are carrying that loss with them to Pittsburgh along with a suddenly hot quarterback and an even hotter defense.
"I think it's going to be World War III," Ravens safety Dawan Landry said. "The last one left a bad taste in our mouth."
Whether it's having a first-round bye ripped from them or a championship dream squashed, Pittsburgh has become a frustrating roadblock for the Ravens, who have never beaten the Steelers in the playoffs.
The Ravens' Super Bowl title defense came to an end at Pittsburgh in the divisional playoffs in January 2002. Their championship run in coach John Harbaugh's first season was stopped by the Steelers in the AFC championship game in January 2009.
Still, the Ravens are embracing the challenge ahead.
"We understand who we are and we understand our path," said Harbaugh, who became the second NFL coach to win a playoff game in each of his first three seasons, joining former Dallas coach Barry Switzer. "We're not intimidated by it at all. We're looking forward to it. We wouldn't have it any other way."
The Ravens are currently 3 1/2-point underdogs, and that should be expected.
Five of the past six regular-season games between the Ravens and Steelers have been decided by three points, including both meetings this season. The other was decided by four points.
"We know what Pitt's all about, and it's going to be a tough game, but we're very confident about going there and playing against them," cornerback Chris Carr said. "And I'm sure they're very confident as well. Every single time we play them, it doesn't matter how good you play, it always seems like the game ends up being close. So hopefully, we can come in there and have a little better effort than we did in the second game and come out with a victory."
Both teams have been evenly matched through the years, but the Ravens and Steelers have reached the divisional round differently.
The second-seeded Steelers have had a two-week break between games. The Ravens will be playing on six days of rest.
"There is definitely an advantage from having time off from a rest perspective and there's probably an advantage to playing from a being sharp perspective," Harbaugh said. "We'll try to take advantage of the things that are the strengths in our factor. I'm very confident that we can get our guys rested and ready to go on Saturday."
That confidence should be brimming after the Ravens' 30-7 dismantling of the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday's wild-card game.
The defense tied a playoff team record with five turnovers, and quarterback Joe Flacco tied an NFL record with his fourth playoff road win as a starter by putting together his most impressive postseason performance.
"I'd like to stand up here and say it's no big deal — and Joe will probably say it's not a big deal — but I was happy for him," Harbaugh said. "I thought for him to come up in a playoff game — and he's always played well enough to win three times before this — but I thought he kind of took the game over at times during the course of the game."
Four reasons the wild-card game offers hope of beating the Steelers:
• Joe Flacco's play against the blitz. Flacco had perhaps his best showing in the pocket, from stepping up to make a throw to shrugging off a defender to scrambling for extra yards. He was nearly perfect against the Chiefs' pressure, completing 4 of 5 passes for 58 yards when Kansas City blitzed a defensive back. The Chiefs' secondary blitz had held teams to the lowest completion rate in the NFL this season, according to ESPN. It was a strong effort going into a game where Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is always a threat to blitz.
• Opening up the passing game. Flacco's comfort zone has always seemed to be throwing the ball to Derrick Mason on the outside and finding Ray Rice underneath the coverage. In the wild-card game, Flacco controlled the middle of the field, completing 18 of 21 passes with two touchdowns in between the field numbers. Tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Anquan Boldin resurfaced in a passing game that will need to carry the Ravens against the NFL's top-ranked run defense.
• Creating turnovers. Causing a handful of turnovers in the playoffs is always impressive. But the Ravens defense forced these mistakes out of a Chiefs team that had the second-fewest giveaways in the NFL. Three of the Ravens' forced turnovers came in a 13-point third quarter. It's the same challenge this week against the Steelers, who finished the regular season tied for the fourth-fewest giveaways in the league.
• Discovering their finishing touch. The Ravens have struggled all season to put teams away early, losing nine leads in the fourth quarter. But they owned the fourth quarter in Sunday's wild-card game, controlling the ball for all but 68 seconds. The Ravens need to carry that same mentality into Pittsburgh, especially when you consider that both meetings have come down to plays late in the fourth quarter.
"Anytime you put a total team effort like that, it's a good win," linebacker Ray Lewis said after the Ravens became the only NFL team to win a playoff game the past three seasons. "But this is not where we're trying to stop at. We understand what the big prize is."
Baltimore Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article