NFL Wire News

Ravens seek first playoff win in Pittsburgh

on

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore will face a familiar foe in the AFC wild-card round on Saturday night, when they face the Pittsburgh Steelers for the third time this season.

In this case, familiarity really does breed contempt.

The Ravens dominated the Steelers with a 26-6 victory in Week 2 at M&T Bank Stadium. Pittsburgh returned the favor seven weeks later with a 43-23 victory at Heinz Field. The two franchises have one of the fiercest rivalries in the NFL and the playoffs will only increase that intensity.

This is the third time Baltimore and Pittsburgh have faced each other in the postseason. The Steelers won in 2001, 2008 and 2010. Still, Baltimore’s players and coaches plan to carry confidence into a hostile environment.

“It’s a great challenge,” Harbaugh said. “It’s another playoff game there. We’d like to win one, one of these days. We love this rivalry, we love being a part of it and I believe they feel the same way.”

The Steelers won the AFC North by beating the Bengals in the final game of the season. Cincinnati finished second and, as the No. 5 seed, will travel to Indianapolis. Baltimore finished third in the division and is the sixth seed.

While the Ravens have been decimated by injuries and have 18 players on injured reserve, the Steelers could be forced to play without their top playmaker, running back Le’Veon Bell, who was knocked out against the Bengals with a hyperextended right knee. Harbaugh said championship-caliber teams are able to overcome the injuries and the veteran leadership on the Ravens has played a big role in keeping the team focused on winning games.

“I feel really happy for the guys who have a chance to play after what we’ve been through this year,” Harbaugh said. “I’m happy for them and proud of them and excited for the opportunity to walk with them through this next challenge.”

Baltimore is one of the teams that few opponents want to face in the postseason. The Ravens are a playoff-savvy team that has now reached the postseason six times in seven seasons under Harbaugh, including the franchise’s second Super Bowl victory in 2012-13.

The players are keeping the mindset that every team in the playoffs is on even ground.

“Well, anything can happen once you get into the playoffs, but I don’t necessarily want to approach it with us,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “I’m not going to be surprised if, three weeks from now, we’re sitting here and still playing. I think when I say anything can happen — or if I was to say that — that’s implying we don’t deserve to win any games in the playoffs. Like I said, there’s a reason why there’s six teams from each (conference) in the playoffs. We played a tough year, had a lot of ups and downs, but obviously enough ups to give us a chance to go win it, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

NOTES: DT Haloti Ngata is set to be reinstated for the playoffs after being suspended for the final four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy after testing positive for Adderall. … DT Timmy Jernigan (foot) is questionable for Pittsburgh. “It’s not a Lisfranc (injury), so there’s an opportunity possibly for him to get back Saturday night,” Harbaugh said. “It will be close; it will be tough. But if he responds really well in the next two days, he actually could get back and play.” … OT Eugene Monroe, who missed the season finale against the Browns because of an ankle injury, is questionable for the playoff game against the Steelers, according to coach John Harbaugh. If Monroe can’t play, rookie offensive James Hurst, who has started in his place, will take over.

REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS

–PASSING OFFENSE: B — Quarterback Joe Flacco started slowly but came up big when it mattered most. He completed 22 of 36 passes for 312 yards and a pair of touchdowns, setting a career high with 27 TDs this season. WR Steve Smith caught eight passes for 90 yards. He went over 1,000 yards receiving for the eighth time in his career. Torrey Smith also caught two touchdowns and finished with a career-high 11.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: B — The Browns had the league’s worst run defense, allowing 142.4 yards per game, and that trend continued against the Ravens, who ran for 129 yards on 28 carries. Baltimore running back Justin Forsett had 119 yards on 17 carries and finished with a career-best 1,266 yards.

–PASS DEFENSE: B — The Ravens were going against rookie quarterback Connor Shaw, who was promoted from the practice squad just two days before the game. Shaw completed 14 of 28 passes for 177 yards and had one pass intercepted late in the fourth quarter by Lardarius Webb.

–RUSH DEFENSE: C-plus — Baltimore extended its streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher to 26 games — the best mark in the NFL. However, Browns running back Terrance West, a Baltimore native, was effective and ran for 94 yards on 18 carries. He gave Cleveland a 10-3 lead on a 2-yard run in the third quarter.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: C — The Ravens committed several careless penalties. Returner Jacoby Jones tried to run back a punt after calling for a fair catch. Justin Tucker made both of his field-goal attempts and Sam Koch had six punts for an average of 46.5 yards.

–COACHING: C — Facing a must-win situation, the Ravens inexplicably came out flat. The offense did not going until the fourth quarter and the defense allowed a rookie quarterback to effectively manage the game for about three quarters. The coaches will have to find a way to get the players to compete with more intensity heading into the playoff against a physical Pittsburgh Steelers team.


About The Sports Xchange

Since 1987, the Sports Xchange has been the best source of information and analysis for the top professionals in the sports publishing & information business