|Saturday, January 15, 2011 – Robert Lang, John Patti and Associated Press|
|Ben Roethlisberger hit rookie Antonio Brown on a 58-yard pass play on third-and-19, and Rashard Mendenhall scored from the 2 with 1:33 remaining to give the Pittsburgh Steelers a 31-24 comeback victory over the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional playoff game Saturday.
The Steelers, 9-0 against division teams in the playoffs, advance to their fifth AFC championship game in 10 seasons next Sunday – at New England if the Patriots beat the Jets on Sunday, in Pittsburgh if the Jets win.
The Steelers (13-4) were trailing 21-7 at halftime after turnovers created two Ravens touchdowns. But they came back with the help of three Baltimore turnovers during one of most miserable third quarters in Ravens history. And the Ravens’ minus-4 yards in offense during the quarter wasn’t the worst of it.
There had been some concerns about the Ravens’ star running back.
ESPN reported this morning reports that running back Ray Rice started feeling sick at the team hotel and was vomiting.
On his Twitter page today, Rice posted a message saying that he is “feeling a lot better.”
He later tweeted that, “to clear it all up I will be playing today ain’t no questionable or none of that I’m good.”
WBAL’s Qaadry Ismail, who is part of the broadcast team traveling with the Ravens, says he first noticed something was wrong with Rice as the team arrived at its hotel last night.
“Literally we get off the bus and coming into the hotel, and I kind of looked at him,” Ismail told WBAL’s C4 this morning.
“He said ‘I don’t know I got something in my stomach. I’m not feeling too well.’ ”
WBAL’s Pete Gilbert reported Rice arrived at the stadium “walking with no gait and no problems.”
Gilbert reports the players were focused and “business like.” He adds that no one was smiling as they got off the bus.
NFL Warns Teams About Trash Talk
The NFL has warned players to cut out the trash talk, specifically when it threatens other players.
“Ray Anderson reminded players that comments of a physically threatening nature are always taken into account in evaluating discipline for any illegal physical contact on the field,” league spokesman Greg Aiello said Saturday.
NFL executive vice president of football operations Anderson is the league’s chief disciplinarian. He told teams, including all eight remaining in the playoffs, to basically watch it.
Since October, the NFL has ratcheted up its enforcement of hits to defenseless players with a series of fines – and the threat of suspension. No suspensions have been handed out, but the recent rash of trash talk before playoff games prompted Anderson to further emphasize the need to respect the game and opponents.
Earlier this week, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie described Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with a derogatory term. New York is at New England on Sunday in the final divisional round game this weekend.
Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs wore a T-shirt with a Raven on it extending a middle finger. Suggs said he was “representing” Baltimore as it headed to Saturday’s playoff game at Pittsburgh.
In the second meeting of the regular season between the AFC North rivals, the Ravens broke Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s nose – accidentally – on a hit by nose tackle Haloti Ngata.
“I was glad we broke his nose,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said with a wry grin this week, “and I was very impressed he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose. He proved that.”
Although Harbaugh was kidding, the comment did rankle some people in Pittsburgh, and perhaps elsewhere around the league.
Jets coach Rex Ryan mentioned this week that players need to dislike their opponents at this time of year.
“You shouldn’t like who you are going up against right now,” he said. “This is the playoffs. I can tell you our whole team respects Brady and the Patriots. But hey, we don’t like any of them right now. You shouldn’t. (Former Jets running back) Danny Woodhead is a great kid, but I can’t stand Danny Woodhead right now.
“I think that’s just part of it, and trust me, the feeling is mutual.”
Light snow, temperatures in the high 20s to low 30s and moderate winds are predicted for the game at Heinz Field.
Winds in the 12-15 mph are expected – perhaps enough to influence field-goal attempts at a stadium that can be tricky for kickers even during ideal weather.
The stadium has a new grass field that was installed at the NHL’s expense following the Capitals-Penguins Winter Classic on Jan. 1. This is the third surface at Heinz Field this season, as the sod also was replaced after four high school football playoff games were played there Thanksgiving weekend. The Steelers played three games on that field.
Some NFL rivalries are manufactured. Some ebb and flow depending on the teams’ records. Then there’s Ravens vs. Steelers, one that is as real as it gets. The games usually are meaningful, with an intensity that isn’t faked and a physicality that caused Pittsburgh wide receiver Hines Ward to label it the Black and Blue Bowl.
The eighth meeting in three seasons between AFC North rivals will leave the winner one victory short of the Super Bowl. The survivor of Saturday’s AFC divisional game meets the winner of Sunday’s Jets-Patriots game in the AFC championship game on Jan. 23.
Yes, another big Ravens-Steelers game, only a month and 10 days since the last. Yet many in Baltimore and Pittsburgh couldn’t wait for it.
“Both sides know when the whistle blows, you’re going to get what we got and we’re going to get what they got,” said Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, whose renowned nastiness fits perfectly in this rivalry. “So, once again – I love to use this – here we go again.”
The Ravens and Steelers tied with 12-4 regular-season records, but Pittsburgh earned a first-round bye based on its superior division record – one made possible by its improbable 13-10 win in Baltimore on Dec. 5. The Ravens were within a couple of first downs of securing a 10-6 win, but Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu caused a Joe Flacco fumble that led to Ben Roethlisberger’s winning 9-yard touchdown pass with 2:51 remaining.
Just like that, a season flipped. But Steelers coach Mike Tomlin cautions the Ravens are capable of “flipping the script” in a series that’s so close, each of the last four games was decided by three points. The combined score since 2003 is Ravens 302, Steelers 302.
Still, the Ravens are 0-2 in the postseason in Heinz Field, where new sod was put down amid a series of snowy days that followed the NHL’s Winter Classic between the Capitals and Penguins on Jan. 1. That was hockey in the rain. This will be football with snow flurries, temperatures in the 20s and emotions that will be super heated.
Former Steelers linebacker Joey Porter proved that when he tried to climb aboard the Ravens’ bus and fight Lewis in 2003. So did Plaxico Burress and James Trapp when they fought on the field in 2002. So did the Ravens, who stood mocking an oft-sacked Ben Roethlisberger in 2006. Perhaps that wasn’t a good idea; Roethlisberger is 6-0 against them since then.
The numerous injuries illustrate the physical nature of the rivalry. Porter’s dangerous hit on an unprotected Todd Heap in 2004 still infuriates the Ravens. Lewis ended running back Rashard Mendenhall’s rookie season by breaking his shoulder in 2008. Ravens linebacker Jameel McClain’s helmet hit on Heath Miller last month caused a concussion and led to a $40,000 fine. In the same game, Haloti Ngata smacked Roethlisberger in the face, breaking the quarterback’s nose with a hit that cost him a $15,000 fine.
“We’re similar styles, we’re physical and we try to impose our will on each other,” Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton said. “I think both teams try to see themselves as bullies.”
For the Ravens, perhaps there’s a tinge of envy that the Steelers always seem to gain the upper hand when it matters; they are 2-8 against Roethlisberger. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, who threw two touchdown passes in a 30-7 wild-card dismantling of Kansas City last weekend, is 0-5 when he starts against Roethlisberger.
While Baltimore is 7-3 in road playoff games, Pittsburgh is 8-0 – zero losses in 40 years – when it meets a division rival in the postseason.
“Some stats you keep up with, some you don’t care about,” Lewis said. “We can’t pack a bag with 40 years on it and say, ‘Hey guys, look what we haven’t done in 40 years.’ Forget it.”
The Ravens rebounded from last month’s loss to win their last five, with Heap – who missed nearly all the Dec. 5 game with a hamstring injury – making 10 catches against Kansas City. Ray Rice was held to 52 yards in the two regular-season games, but is the only opposing back in 50 games to run for more than 100 yards against the Steelers’ league-leading rushing defense.
There’s much to worry the Ravens, too, as the Steelers have won six of seven.
Polamalu, bothered for weeks by a sore right Achilles’ tendon, is the healthiest he’s been since midseason. Roethlisberger, under constant pressure last month from linebacker Terrell Suggs, often uses his size and strength to extend plays that appear to have broken down. Wide receiver Mike Wallace, who will be playing in his first postseason game, has seven catches of 40-plus yards and possesses the kind of speed the Ravens haven’t seen elsewhere.
“He hit a gear that I didn’t even know existed in a human being on a little pop pass Ben threw to him (against Carolina),” Suggs said. “I was like, `Wow, that’s just amazing.”‘
There’s often a `wow’ factor in Ravens-Steelers games. Ward knows he doesn’t want to experience the opposite feeling, especially given that, due to the NFL’s unstable labor situation, the loser won’t know for sure when it will play again.
“We know what’s at stake, and whoever wins this game will have to think about that loss all offseason,” Ward said. “It’s going to be physical. And it usually comes down to the fourth quarter.”
Hundreds of Ravens fans are making the trip to Pittsburgh for the game.
“Purple Friday” rallies with Ravens’ cheerleaders, mascots and marching bands took place around the area Friday.
Hear the game on WBAL-AM 1090. Coverage starts with a special edition of “Sportsline with Peter Schmuck” at noon. Keith Mills hosts “Ravens Gameday” at 1:30 p.m.
Gerry Sandusky, Qaadry Ismail and Stan White have the play-by-play starting at 4 p.m.