Sorry Not Sorry; Steelers and Ravens ready to renew rivalry
(AP Photo/Don Wright, File)
By WILL GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
PITTSBURGH (AP) Ben Roethlisberger and Terrell Suggs have spent well over a decade staring across the line of scrimmage, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and the relentless Baltimore Ravens linebacker both knowing they will meet multiple times, often in violent fashion.
Their collisions - much like the rivalry between their two teams - have been memorable. So has the back and forth between the two.
And while the NFL appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts as it tries to legislate some of the brutality out of the game - particularly when it comes to how defenders can (and can't) hit quarterbacks - Roethlisberger doesn't expect much to change on Sunday night when the Steelers (1-1-1) host the Ravens (2-1).
It will be physical. It will be tight. And at no time will Suggs or any of his teammates yell "I'm sorry" at Roethlisberger before hitting him as the microphones caught Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy doing during Pittsburgh's victory last Monday night.
"I don't think you ever (get) an apology from a Raven," Roethlisberger said with a laugh.
No apologies are necessary while playing what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls "AFC North football," code he uses to describe a series built on respectful fierceness.
"We've been going at it with these guys it seems like forever now," Tomlin said before adding, "you learn not to go into this game with any preconceived notion."
Good idea. The reality is both sides have evolved. Baltimore's previous two visits to Heinz Field have ended dramatically. Antonio Brown's "Immaculate Extension" in the final seconds secured a division title for the Steelers on Christmas night in 2016. Chris Boswell's late field goal capped a wild 39-38 Pittsburgh victory last December.
"They've turned into little mini-shootouts, and they've been a lot of fun to be a part of," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.
The Steelers and the 36-year-old Roethlisberger remain one of the NFL's most dynamic offenses even with All-Pro running back Le'Veon Bell's extended absence while waiting to sign his franchise tender.
It's a group the Ravens appear to be ready to join thanks in part to a revitalized Flacco. Pittsburgh is the NFL's seventh-highest scoring team through three weeks. Baltimore is fifth.
The nature of the rivalry may have changed through the years. The edge that emerges when they face each other has not.
"That's why we enjoy playing a physical game against these guys," Flacco said. "We have to make sure they feel like that, because it's more than just winning and losing a game. It's beating a division opponent up a little bit, so they still have to feel the effects the next week."
It's hardly surprising the Steelers shook off a winless start by thriving under the Monday night lights in Tampa.
Pittsburgh seems to save its best for national showcases. Roethlisberger is 21-3 in regular season night games at Heinz Field. The Steelers have won nine straight appearances on Sunday night, seven of them at home.
"You know the whole world is watching and you want to give it everything you have," Roethlisberger said.
This will be Baltimore's final game without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who's serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancers.
Smith has long been an integral part of the Ravens defense, but they've done just fine without him. Over three games, Baltimore has allowed a total of just nine points after halftime.
"You're always chasing perfection," Ravens coach Harbaugh said. "But (the cornerbacks) are playing very well."
Maybe, but the Steelers offer a significant step up in class. While Brown remains as effective as ever, he's hardly the only option at Roethlisberger's disposal. While Brown is averaging a pedestrian 8.8 yards per grab, four of his teammates - including second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster - are averaging 13 yards per catch or more.
RED (ZONE) HOT
The Ravens are the first team in NFL history to start a season with touchdowns on each of their 12 trips into the red zone.
"It's a huge amount of pride for us," lineman James Hurst said. "There's a lot of times when wins and losses in the NFL come down to scoring seven as opposed to three."
Diversity is the key: Baltimore has six rushing scores and six passing TDs after entering the red zone. The Ravens went 3 for 3 last week against Denver. Dating back to last year's finale against Cincinnati, Baltimore has 15 touchdowns in 16 trips inside the opponents' 20.
BRING THE NOISE
Pittsburgh's secondary has looked like a bit of a hot mess early, allowing Kansas City's Patrick Mahomes to throw for six touchdowns in Week 2 and Tampa Bay's Ryan Fitzpatrick to go over 400 yards last Monday.
The cure until the defensive backfield figures it out is providing pressure up front. The Steelers forced four straight turnovers against the Buccaneers, three of them coming with Fitzpatrick under significant duress, though the more mobile Flacco presents a slightly different challenge.
"We know if we can get in his face, disrupt his timing it's going to help the DBs out," Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. "We brought it from all over against Tampa Bay and that's what you need to do against a veteran guy like Flacco."
AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.
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Updated September 27, 2018