Ravens, Steelers: Round 3

BILL LANKHOF, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:55 PM ET

Hide the women and children; the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers are circling the wagons.

“This is World War III to us. This is definitely Armageddon,” says Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs as the bitter rivals prepare for Saturday’s divisional playoff.

To suggest these two teams don’t like each other is like suggesting the Hatfields and McCoys are marginally annoyed by each other. These two cities have had their own version of a Cold War going for years but, more particularly for the current participants, since 2008 when the Steelers’ Troy Polamalu sealed the AFC title with a late-game interception.

They’ve been playing smashmouth football ever since. In their most recent meeting, a 13-10 Steelers’ win in Baltimore, Ravens’ defensive tackle Haloti Ngata drilled quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, breaking his nose.

Ngata was fined $15,000 US for the unauthorized surgical procedure.

Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t mind a repeat performance. Remorse is not part of Baltimore’s game plan.

“I was glad we broke his nose and then I was very impressed that he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose — he proved that.”

Harbaugh expects his players to go after Roethlisberger on Saturday the same way they did in December.

“We’re going to try to get after him like we always do,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be real important, and he knows that. That’s a key to stopping him. You’ve got to get him down.”

The Ravens aren’t particularly picky how they get that job done — as long as it gets done.

“(It’s) personal between the two cities, Baltimore and Pittsburgh,” said Suggs. “We’re very evenly matched. Two physical, fast, outstanding defences. Two very poised quarterbacks, except (Roethlisberger) may have an edge since he’s got two rings, but we’re working on getting Joe (Flacco) his first one this year.”

The Steelers were the only team to beat the Ravens in Baltimore, but they lost 17-14 earlier in Week 4 at Heinz Field.

That first meeting was before Roethlisberger was back in full charge of the offence. That was before the Steelers’ offensive line started to get it together somewhat. That was before the Steelers got healthy. That was before Polamalu turned ball-hawk again. And, that was before a trip to the AFC championship game and the Super Bowl was on the line.

If the Steelers have gotten better, so have the Ravens, whose defence is once again making big plays. Baltimore forced only 18 turnovers with a plus-1 turnover margin in its first 14 games. In the past three games, when it counted, the Ravens have 13 turnovers with a plus-9 margin. In the past two weeks, they have allowed only 14 points.

That they should meet in this weekend’s decisive knuckle-duster is fitting. Each finished 12-4. Each owned the other’s backyard.

“It seems like poetic justice,” says Harbaugh. That is, of course, assuming that a blood-letting can be poetic. Both these teams live on the edge of the law. Neither has ever played with a rule that couldn’t be bent.

The Steelers have been called dirty head-hunters. The Ravens have Lewis, who leads with demonic fanaticism.

Sometimes that rowdiness has even spilled over into real life. Roethlisberger was suspended for inappropriate actions involving a college coed this year. This week the Ravens’ superb pass defender Ed Reed isn’t even with the team.

He’s back home where his brother has been missing since Friday, when he apparently jumped into the Mississippi River after being confronted by a deputy sheriff in Louisiana in response to a report of a stolen car.

Reed played anyway on the weekend. In fact, he played so well it earned him a game ball.

Both teams dispensed with the niceties in life, and in football, ages ago and as Lewis — eyes gleaming like a wolf on the hunt — acknowledged after Sunday’s throttling of the Chiefs: “Here we go again.”

Whatever the result. Whatever the blood spilled. Expect no apologies.

“We’re looking forward to walking into Heinz Field with a certain swagger,” Suggs said. “This is the NFL at its best. This is what the world wants to see. They want to see Baltimore and Pittsburgh.”

Quick Hits

Patriots back Danny Woodhead (concussion) has been cleared for full practice this week ... Seattle linebacker Lofa Tatupu (concussion) and wideout Ben Obomanu (dislocated shoulder) were both expected to practise this week after suffering injuries against New Orleans ... Patriots coach Bill Belichick reminded his players Monday to avoid a war of words with the New York Jets. “Definitely,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said when asked about a team meeting. “That’s why I’m hoping (he laughed) no one asks me those kinds of questions.” ... llinois RB Mikel Leshoure announced Tuesday he will enter the draft. He set the Illini’s single-season rushing record with 1,697 yards and is predicted to be the second tailback drafted, behind Mark Ingram.

bill.lankhof@sunmedia.ca


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