Steelers, Ravens renew NFL's fiercest rivalry Sunday
By Associated Press
There may be no nastier rivalry than the one shared by the Pittsburgh Steelers
and the Baltimore Ravens
, two teams whose already physical approaches are only intensified when they face one another.
As long as Ben Roethlisberger
's been available, though, it's been rather one-sided.
A wild comeback on their way to Super Bowl XLV was the seventh straight time the Steelers have beaten Baltimore with Roethlisberger under center, a streak certainly on the minds of both teams heading into Sunday afternoon's season opener at M&T Bank Stadium.
Smash-mouth defense and stellar running games have defined Pittsburgh and Baltimore for years, but it's been a quarterback who's made the difference in a rivalry that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis
sums up as "get hit or be hit."
Both finished 12-4 in 2010 after winning on their opponents' home field in the regular season, though Roethlisberger -- serving a league-mandated four-game suspension -- missed a 17-14 loss in Week 4.
He was back to engineer a 13-10 win at Baltimore in Week 13 that propelled the Steelers to the AFC North title, then was at his best in the teams' divisional playoff meeting at Heinz Field. With Pittsburgh down 21-7 at halftime, Roethlisberger threw two second-half touchdown passes, then set up the winning score with a 58-yard strike to Antonio Brown, enabling Rashard Mendenhall
to score with 1:33 left to cap a 31-24 victory.
"He may not be (Tom) Brady or all those other guys, but when I see him in the huddle I know we've got a chance to win," said Steelers receiver Hines Ward
, who added the Ravens would be "ticked about this (loss) for a long time."
"He's a proven winner. And history shows he's a proven winner against Baltimore."
Roethlisberger has thrown 12 touchdown passes and just three interceptions -- posting a 93.9 passer rating -- during his personal seven-game winning streak against the Ravens, twice helping Pittsburgh knock them out of the playoffs since 2008.
Not that he relishes facing one of the league's most ferocious defenses.
"I hate going to Baltimore, I hate playing there, and I hate playing them in general just because they are good," Roethlisberger told the Steelers' official website.
"That's not a knock on them; it's giving them a lot of credit because they are such a good football team. ... This is almost like its own season when we play those guys."
, who's been under center for six of those losses, has thrown five TDs, seven interceptions and had a 59.2 QB rating.
It's those two in January, though, that have stuck with Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs
, one of the more active participants of trash talk in a series full of them.
"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? ... I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year. Game one. Let's go."
Roethlisberger was considerably less impressive in the Steelers' 31-25 loss to the Packers in the Super Bowl, throwing two interceptions -- including one that was returned to put Pittsburgh in a 14-0 hole.
But after making it to the NFL's biggest stage for the third time in six seasons, the Steelers largely sat out the league's frenzied but brief offseason. A flirtation with Plaxico Burress didn't pan out, and Pittsburgh eventually settled for Jerricho Cotchery
to be its fifth receiver.
Its biggest move was to re-sign cornerback Ike Taylor
, who will play Sunday despite breaking his left thumb in the team's preseason opener.
"Tell me where to go, give me a time, pick a place and I will be there," Taylor said of facing the Ravens.
Taylor, Troy Polamalu
and the rest of Pittsburgh's secondary will find another speedy target to cover. Baltimore traded a fourth-round pick to Buffalo for Lee Evans
, hoping the veteran can provide a downfield threat to complement Anquan Boldin
Evans is hardly the only new face, however. The Ravens brought in 20 new players, with fullback Vonta Leach
and veteran offensive linemen Bryant McKinnie
and Andre Gurode
among those expected to give Flacco and running back Ray Rice
Gone are Willis McGehee, Todd Heap
, Derrick Mason
and nose tackle Kelly Gregg
Lewis isn't sure which team's approach -- the Steelers' stay-put mentality or the Ravens' flurry of changes -- will pay off Sunday.
"You can look at it for them and say, 'keeping their core together is an advantage for them,'" Lewis told the Ravens' official website. "And then you can come on the flip side for us and say, 'the different changes we did make, we didn't make changes to get worse, we made changes to get better.'"
Eight of the last nine meetings have been within a touchdown, with five of those being decided by a field goal.
The Steelers haven't lost on opening week since 2002, the league's longest active streak. Baltimore has won its past three openers.