Ravens, Steelers renew rivalry with much at stake

Nov 28, 2009 - 7:46 PM By DAVID GINSBURG AP Sports Writer

BALTIMORE(AP) -- Whether they're facing each other in the AFC championship game or playing for nothing more than pride, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens never have to wait until the opening kickoff to stoke up the intensity.

The players know what to expect long before Sunday arrives.

"When Baltimore and Pittsburgh get together," Steelers receiver Hines Ward said, "it is all-out war."

When they last played in January, a trip to the Super Bowl was at stake. This season hasn't gone as planned for either team, but these AFC North rivals won't be lacking incentive Sunday night.

The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers (6-4) have lost two straight. The Ravens (5-5) are in danger of falling below .500 and out of the playoff hunt. The winner will not only enhance its postseason hopes, but harm the aspirations of the loser.

"It's two physical football teams, and they're going together head to head. Each of us wants to prove which is the better team and which is the more physical team. I think the way you do that is you go out there and win," Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco said. "I think both sides enjoy it. Whichever side wins is going to enjoy it a little more."

The Steelers are expected to be without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who sustained a concussion in last week's game in Kansas City. Because backup Charlie Batch is out after breaking his wrist against the Chiefs, inexperienced Dennis Dixon will probably make his first NFL start.

The Ravens fully expected Roethlisberger to play, but his absence won't change the intensity this game always generates.

Steelers offensive tackle Max Starks said, "It's like your neighbor - you're always competing against each other. You always want the best of him. They love contact just as much as we do. The important thing is as long as I bruise them more than they bruise me, it's always a good day."

Starks has been involved in this rivalry since 2004. Baltimore second-year running back Ray Rice needed only one season to realize exactly how these teams feel about each other.

"It's very intense. I'm new to it still, but obviously, it seems as if it doesn't matter if we were playing for a championship or playoffs, the Steelers are the Steelers and the Ravens are always going to be the Ravens," Rice said. "It's always going to be a rivalry. You'll see things that typically don't happen in normal games."

Such was the case last year. The Steelers won the first game in overtime after Baltimore blew a 10-point halftime lead, and Pittsburgh captured the rematch when Santonio Holmes was credited with a last-minute touchdown on a goal-line catch that was difficult to decipher even after repeated replays.

Then, in the AFC title game, both teams lost several players to injury in a fierce duel finally decided on an interception return for a touchdown by Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu.

"These are two rough-and-tumble teams who always provide fireworks when they play," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "I think anybody that appreciates the game of football, particularly NFL football, has a level of respect for this rivalry."

It hardly matters that Cincinnati leads the division, or that the Steelers are coming off a loss to the lowly Chiefs, or that Baltimore has lost five of seven. This is a rivalry unlike any other.

"After having been in it for three games, I feel like I've been in for a lifetime after last year," Ravens second-year coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously, they've got a little bit of an edge on us so far in that span, so weve got our work cut out for us."

In the AFC championship game, defensive back Corey Ivy was one of several Ravens injured. Now he's a member of the Steelers, who signed him Tuesday to enhance a special teams unit that has surrendered four kickoff returns for touchdowns over the last five games.

Naturally, Tomlin was asked if Ivy provided any information about the Ravens that might prove useful to Pittsburgh.

"We know the Ravens pretty good, just like they know us pretty good," Tomlin said. "Corey's presence here has nothing to do with insight, and more to do with his ability to make plays in the special teams game."

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