Can Ravens solve Steelers?

Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens lost two of three to the Pittsburgh Steelers last...

Quarterback Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens lost two of three to the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, including a heartbreaking defeat in the divisional playoff round. (REUTERS FILES/Aaron Josefczyk)

Mike Rutsey, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:44 PM ET

BALTIMORE - It’s torture time for the Baltimore Ravens.

It’s opening Sunday on the 2011 National Football League season and who do the Ravens draw but the Pittsburgh Steelers, their hated enemy, a team they can’t beat in the clutch.

There is no love lost between the two AFC North powerhouses but for the Ravens, the Steelers are an itch they can’t scratch, a team that psychologically and on the field simply has gotten under their collective skin.

The Steelers are Lucy to Baltimore’s Charlie Brown with victory about as elusive as the football that Lucy keeps pulling away while poor Charlie whiffs on his kick and falls flat on his back each and every time.

Down and out, that’s the way the Steelers usually leave the Ravens. Pittsburgh won two of the three they played last year including a heartbreak loss by Baltimore in the divisional playoff round.

In that one, played in frigid weather in Pittsburgh, the Ravens open up a 21-7 lead in the first half, only to self destruct in the second half and blow the proverbial golden opportunity.

In the third quarter of that game the Ravens offence went fumble, three-and-out punt, interception, fumble. In the quarter, they racked up a total of minus-four yards of offence.

Then in the final two minutes of the game with the score knotted 24-24, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger connected with Antonio Brown on a desperation heave on third and 19 that put the ball at Baltimore’s four-yard line.

Pittsburgh would go on to win 31-24 and deliver another kick to the cojones.

“What a better way to win and put Baltimore out of the tournament,” Steelers veteran receiver Hines Ward crowed at the time. “They asked for us and kept asking for us. Sometimes, like my mama always said: ‘Be careful what you ask for.’

“It seems like every time we get into the playoffs, they keep wanting to play us. At the end of the day, they have to worry about this loss the whole offseason.”

Well, the off-season has come and gone and the Ravens are still trying to figure out how to beat the Steelers.

They haven’t come close when Roethlisberger is taking the snaps as Big Ben is on a seven-game winning streak when facing them. Against a team as tough and gifted as Baltimore, that’s just an incredible roll.

Things have gotten so bad, the Baltimore players so spooked, that Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs refuses to utter either ‘Pittsburgh’ or ‘Steelers’.

Joe Flacco is touted as one of the best young quarterbacks in the game. But when he comes up against Pittsburgh, he continually rolls craps.

In that bitter loss on Jan. 15, Flacco was 16-for-30 for 125 yards — hardly the stuff of legend.

Given the recent history and litany of crushing defeats, the Ravens are certainly not lacking in motivation for Sunday’s game. But can they turn the tide? Can they deliver?

“They’ve spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years,” Suggs said recently. “We have to switch that you know.

“It’s sickening and it ends our season every year and we lose to our division rival. I’m sick of it. I’m disgusted. I’m tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year.

“Game on. Let’s go.”

Unlike the Steelers, who pretty well stood pat, the Ravens have made a number of changes from the team that was beaten at Heinz Field.

They have added wide receiver Lee Evans, he of Buffalo Bills fame, to add speed to the receiving corps, acquired big offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, formerly of the Minnesota Vikings, and to beef up their short-yardage game and provide blocking for Ray Rice, obtained bruising fullback Vonta Leach.

Although they have been defined by the ferocity of their defence and their great middle linebacker Ray Lewis, the Ravens have a new defensive coordinator in Chuck Pagano whose stated mission is to return to an attacking, aggressive, blitzing style and give the defence more of a swagger.

Along the way, though, the Ravens also lost the services of receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, who was a favourite third-down target of Flacco.

That prompted the hated Ward to poke them with a stick by declaring: “When you lose a Mason or a Heap, that does a lot to a locker room. Those guys were emotional leaders out there. All of the pressure comes on Flacco probably.

“Some organizations feel like they have to go young. I think we do a great job of mixing veteran guys with a nucleus of young guys that are waiting in the wings.”

And that more or less is where the Ravens find themselves — waiting in the wings, waiting for another kick at the proverbial can.

They get that opportunity today.


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