AFC North: Ravens-Steelers 2010 playoffs

QBs separate Ravens and Steelers

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
11:37
PM ET
Ben RoethlisbergerGregory Shamus/Getty ImagesSteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 9-2 in his career against the Baltimore Ravens.
PITTSBURGH -- There is not much that separates the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. Both teams have elite defenses, Pro Bowl players, future Hall of Famers and two of the best coaching staffs in the NFL.

But on Pittsburgh's sideline you have quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. And on Baltimore's sideline you have Joe Flacco.

Game, set and match in favor of the Steelers.

Roethlisberger was masterful against Baltimore once again during Pittsburgh's 31-24 divisional-round playoff victory Saturday. He threw for 226 yards and two touchdowns. Roethlisberger's biggest play was a key, 58-yard bomb to rookie receiver Antonio Brown on third-and-19 that led to Pittsburgh's go-ahead score with less than two minutes remaining.

The game marked Roethlisberger's seventh consecutive win over Baltimore -- Pittsburgh's biggest rival -- and improved his career record to 9-2 against the Ravens. It's painfully obvious that the Ravens will not climb "Mt. Roethlisberger" until Flacco closes ground on Pittsburgh's two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

As Roethlisberger kept making big play after big play, Flacco floundered with another poor playoff outing, throwing for only 125 yards and one touchdown and committing two huge turnovers (one interception and one fumble). In a very close game that came down to the final possession, Roethlisberger's passer rating was 101.8 compared with Flacco's 61.1.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJoe Flacco was sacked four times in the second half and the Steelers held the Ravens to only three points after halftime.
"He's better. Right now Ben's better," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said bluntly. "He's more experienced, he's been through it more times and seen more things. It's not a slight on Flacco at all; it's a compliment to our guy. We have total confidence in Ben that when we need a play he's going to make it."

The look on Roethlisberger's face Saturday night was matter-of-fact. There was no big smile or special show of emotion in the locker room or during his news conference after one of the best wins of his career. Roethlisberger expects to step up in key postseason moments, so much so that he barely wanted to indulge in his clutch play.

"I have confidence in our guys," Roethlisberger shrugged. "It's not just me by any means, all I have to do is throw it."

Baltimore needed big plays from Flacco against Pittsburgh but didn't get them.

The Ravens' defense was tremendous in the first half. They forced two Pittsburgh turnovers early that led to 14 points, including a forced fumble of Roethlisberger that was picked up by Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding and returned for a 13-yard touchdown.

The Ravens led 21-7 in the first half before Pittsburgh's defense got to Flacco in the second half and things fell apart. Flacco was only 4-of-12 passing for 43 yards and had both of his turnovers in the second half. Flacco also didn’t get much help as Baltimore receivers dropped some passes. Four of Pittsburgh's five sacks also came after intermission, as Pittsburgh outscored Baltimore 24-3 in the second half.

"I think you kind of saw Joe get a little rattled. He was getting hit a couple of times," Clark said as he continued to compare the two quarterbacks. "We put some pressure on him and Ben never [gets rattled]. I think he likes it."

Flacco dropped to 2-6 against the Steelers and 0-6 in games that Roethlisberger has played. Flacco's two wins against Pittsburgh came in 2009 when Roethlisberger sat out with a concussion and this season when Roethlisberger was serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy.

"We're both good football teams and the bottom line is they're better at winning right now than we are," Flacco said. "We have to improve. We're just not there yet."

And neither is Flacco. But afterward, Roethlisberger offered Flacco some words of encouragement.

"I'd just tell him to keep his head up," Roethlisberger said. "He's a really, really good player. He's going to be one of the best in this league."

But for now Roethlisberger continues to rack up wins against Flacco in this great rivalry.

This is the fourth time Pittsburgh has made it to the AFC title game in Roethlisberger's seven seasons. The Steelers will try to advance to the Super Bowl for the third time since the 2005 season when they play next weekend against the New England Patriots or New York Jets.

Meanwhile, another great season ends for the Ravens as Flacco continues his maturation process. Flacco has led Baltimore to the playoffs in three straight seasons, which is quite an accomplishment. But for the Ravens to win a Super Bowl, their third-year quarterback needs to put together more Roethlisberger-like performances in the postseason.

PITTSBURGH -- Here are some early thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 31-24 divisional-round playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens:

What it means: The Ravens and Steelers staged another classic game in this heated rivalry, as Pittsburgh overcame a 14-point deficit in the second half. An unbelievable, 58-yard pass on third-and-19 to rookie Antonio Brown proved to be the difference. Brown beat Ravens cornerback Lardarius Webb on the play. Pittsburgh broke the tie in the season series to advance to next week's AFC Championship Game. The Steelers will play the winner of Sunday's game between the New England Patriots and New York Jets. For the Ravens, another quality season is over. This is the second time in three years Baltimore lost in the playoffs to Pittsburgh.

What I liked: After a slow start, the Steelers played extremely well in the second half and that was the difference. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (226 yards, two touchdowns) had another solid playoff game, with his late connection to Brown being the biggest play. Pittsburgh's defense also battered and confused Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco in the third and fourth quarters. After a week of trash talk, Ravens Pro Bowl defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs backed it up with another tremendous performance. He had three sacks, including a forced fumble on Roethlisberger that led to Cory Redding's 13-yard touchdown in the first quarter.

What I didn't like: The Ravens took a two-touchdown lead into the second half, but quickly allowed Pittsburgh back into the game with sloppy play. Flacco had another poor playoff outing. He threw for 125 yards, one touchdown and had a key fumble and an interception in the second half. Both teams, in fact, were careless with the football. There were four fumbles and five turnovers overall.

What's next: The Steelers will wait for the Jets and Patriots to play to find out the location of next week’s playoff game. If New York wins, Heinz Field will be the site of the AFC title game. If the Patriots win, the Steelers are heading to Gillette Stadium, where the winner will advance to Super Bowl XLV. Both games would be rematches from the regular season, when the Steelers suffered home losses to New England and New York.

Ravens-Steelers halftime notes

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
6:07
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The Baltimore Ravens lead the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-7 at intermission.

Here are some notes at halftime:
  • On Friday we wrote in the AFC North blog that rust could be an issue for Pittsburgh, and that's clearly the case in the first half. The Steelers haven't played in two weeks, and combined with Baltimore looking very sharp and bringing its 'A' game, that's made for a lopsided first half. The Ravens are taking advantage of Steelers' penalties (six) and turnovers (two) and turning them into points. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and tailback Rashard Mendenhall both had big fumbles for Pittsburgh, and Baltimore turned them into 14 points. Pittsburgh kicker Shaun Suisham also missed a 43-yard field goal right before halftime.
  • Baltimore has done a solid job on offense of avoiding Pittsburgh's pressure by running several screens and draw plays for decent gains. The Steelers often blitz on second and third downs, and the Ravens have caught the Steelers a few times in the first half. Baltimore's first touchdown was scored on a 14-yard draw play by tailback Ray Rice.
  • The officials have made their presence felt early. There have been two pass interference calls -- one for each team -- totaling 74 yards. Both calls eventually led to touchdowns. Officials did get the big fumble call correct against Roethlisberger when he was hit by Terrell Suggs, who has two sacks in the first half. Everyone on the field thought it was a forward pass, until Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding picked up the football and walked into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Overall, there were nine penalties in the first half.
  • On the injury front, Steelers cornerback Bryant McFadden suffered a hip injury and didn't return. The team announced that his return to the game is questionable.

Ravens get a huge (and strange) TD

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
5:28
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- One of the strangest playoff touchdowns you will ever see occurred in the first quarter between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers.

Deep in its own territory, Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit from behind by Ravens defensive end Terrell Suggs while trying to throw the football. It was a fumble, but all 22 players stood still for several seconds because they thought it was an incomplete pass.

After no whistle was blown by the officials, Ravens defensive lineman Cory Redding made a smart play by picking up the football and waltzing into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown. Pittsburgh challenged the play, but the fumble call was upheld.

The Ravens lead 14-7 after the first quarter.

Checking in from Heinz Field

January, 15, 2011
1/15/11
3:00
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- The AFC North blog is live at Heinz Field for Saturday's divisional playoff matchup between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens.

Here are a couple of early notes on the game:
  • Pittsburgh had some news today as starting defensive end Brett Keisel was added to the AFC Pro Bowl team as an alternate. This is Keisel's first Pro Bowl, and he replaced Indianapolis Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, who is injured. Keisel, who anchored the NFL's No. 1 rush defense, recorded 33 tackles, three sacks and an interception for a touchdown.
  • The weather is not as bad as I anticipated. My car said it was 39 degrees outside, which is not brutally cold for the winter in Pittsburgh. There has been snowfall throughout the week but nothing so far today.
  • Baltimore tailback Ray Rice was feeling ill on Saturday, which caused some concerns for Ravens fans. But Rice sent a tweet this morning that he feels much better and he's playing against Pittsburgh.

Speaking of who's playing and who's not playing, we will have Ravens and Steelers inactives coming up soon in the AFC North blog.
PITTSBURGH -- Regardless of what team you root for, I encourage Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers fans to savor every moment of Saturday's divisional playoff game. This might be the last time you see important veterans from both teams compete in this rivalry with so much at stake.

Accomplished players such as Ray Lewis, Hines Ward, Ed Reed, James Farrior, Derrick Mason, Casey Hampton, Kelly Gregg and Brett Keisel will not play forever. Ward, 34, said this week that he only has "one or two years" left of football. The other aforementioned veterans, all 32 or older, are probably not far behind.

There are eight current Pro Bowlers in this game, several future Hall of Famers and a few more who will go down as some of the best players of this era. And today they will all compete with everything on the line.

Games like this don't happen often, AFC North fans. Who knows? We might not see this again for another two ... five ... or 10 years.

Rest assured, the Ravens-Steelers rivalry will go on and remain strong. Several seasons from now we'll be talking about Haloti Ngata versus Maurkice Pouncey, LaMarr Woodley versus Michael Oher, and Mike Wallace, Joe Flacco, Lawrence Timmons, Ray Rice and Rashard Mendenhall. The next generation of Steelers and Ravens will do a great job of carrying the mantle.

But battle-tested vets like Lewis, Ward, Reed, Farrior, Mason, Hampton, etc. ... will always be remembered as part of that first generation who started the Steelers-Ravens rivalry and made it what it is today. Most will be back for the 2011 regular season, but there's no guarantee any will hang around long enough to meet again in the playoffs.

So enjoy today's events, Ravens and Steelers fans. Win or lose, do not take this game for granted.
Here is the final injury report for Saturday's divisional playoff game between the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers:

Ravens (13-4)

Questionable: C Matt Birk (knee), CB Chris Carr (thigh), S Tom Zbikowski (back)

Probable: LB Tavares Gooden (shoulder), WR Donte' Stallworth (illness)

Steelers (12-4)

Doubtful: DE Aaron Smith (triceps)

Probable: CB Bryant McFadden (abs, groin), S Troy Polamalu (ankle, Achilles)
I'm sure many of you have seen it by now. Via a T-shirt, Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs had an . ... ahem. ... interesting message for the Pittsburgh Steelers this week.

The infamous shirt says "Hey Pittsburgh" and displays a Raven making a not-so-nice gesture to the Steelers and their fans. We will not display such images, because we're a family-friendly blog and the creators of Aladdin and Mickey Mouse sign our paychecks.

But there are other means to check out Suggs' T-shirt and we want to know what Steelers and Ravens fans think about it. Is Suggs unnecessarily firing up the Steelers more than he needs to? Or is this just Suggs' way staying loose and maintaining an edge for the big game?

Share your comments below or send them to our AFC North inbox. I know this rivalry can get dirty at times, but keep it clean.
After resting all week, Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (ankle, Achilles) returned to practice on Thursday. He is expected to play in his second consecutive game Saturday against the Baltimore Ravens.

In other injury news, Steelers starting cornerback Bryant McFadden also had full participation for the first time this week. He was limited with a groin injury. Defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) was the only player limited in practice for Pittsburgh.

For Baltimore, starting center Matt Birk (knee) and cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) both sat out of practice Thursday.

Ravens-Steelers III: Injury reports

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
4:48
PM ET
Here is the latest news on who practiced and who didn't for the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers:

Steelers (12-4)

Coming off the bye week, the Steelers are as healthy as they've been in months. They only have one player who sat out of practice entirely Wednesday and that's Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu (Achilles). Recently Pittsburgh has been resting Polamalu during the week before bringing him back before the final practice. Polamalu said Wednesday that he will practice Thursday. Starting cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) and defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps) had limited practices. Smith, who has been out for two months, said Tuesday he doesn't expect a final decision on his playing status until late in the week.

Ravens (13-4)

Baltimore was fortunate to come out of last week's wild-card win over the Kansas City Chiefs healthy. The Ravens have five players listed on their injury report, with receiver Donte' Stallworth (illness) and starting center Matt Birk (knee) being the only two who didn't practice Wednesday. Cornerback Chris Carr (thigh) was limited but he's expected to play. Linebacker Tavares Gooden (shoulder) and safety Tom Zbikowski (back) are both improving and fully participated in practice. All things considered, the Ravens are a healthy group coming into the divisional playoff game.
PITTSBURGH -- While there is plenty of bitterness involved in the AFC North rivalry between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, there is just as much mutual respect in both locker rooms.

Reed
Ward
For example, Pittsburgh veteran receiver Hines Ward discussed his respect Wednesday for Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed. Ward recently introduced Reed for the NFL's compilation of the league's 100 greatest players.

"I did that, and it was just out of respect," Ward said. "They asked if I would do a presentation on Ed Reed and I said 'Sure, why not?' We've had our battles over the years. He's hit me and I've hit him a couple times. It's always been very physical between both of us.

"But at the end of the day -- and I'm a little bias towards Troy [Polamalu] -- but he is by far, No. 1 or No. 2, the best safety in the league."

Reed pulled off an amazing feat this season. Despite starting on the physically unable to perform list and missing six games following hip surgery, Reed led the NFL with eight interceptions in 10 games. Often Reed's picks come in bunches. He had three multi-interception games this season and is the NFL's active leader in that category with 11 total.

"He's a game-changer, same thing with Troy," Ward said of Reed. "When you're playing good and you're a great player, great things just happen when you're around. [Reed] will pick up a fumble and take it to the house. A tipped pass, he will take it to the house or somebody will pitch it to him and he will take it to the house.

"Those guys just have a key knack for making plays when they need it the most, and he's right up there with Troy."

AccuScore: Ravens-Steelers

January, 12, 2011
1/12/11
11:30
AM ET


Jenny Dell goes inside the numbers to see how the Ravens-Steelers game plays out in simulations.

Ravens-Steelers III: Ed Reed returns

January, 11, 2011
1/11/11
7:24
PM ET
Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed returned to the team Tuesday after spending time with his family in Louisiana to deal with the disappearance of his younger brother.

"Ed got back and he practiced," Ravens coach John Harbaugh told reporters. "He went through the meetings today. He got back for the meetings. He was in good spirits. He seemed like he was doing pretty well."

Brian Reed, 29, was reported missing last week following a police chase where he jumped into the Mississippi River to avoid authorities. Ed Reed, 32, took a private plane to Louisiana after Baltimore's 30-7 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs to be with his family.

Ed Reed's return to practice Tuesday is a strong sign that he will play in Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Smith
Smith
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith saw media members begin to swarm his locker following Tuesday's practice. But Smith admitted ahead of time that he didn't have any definitive update on his playing status for Saturday's divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Smith had triceps surgery in late October but was kept on the active roster in the event he could return for the playoffs. The Steelers say his rehab is going well. But a final decision on his return is not expected until the end of the week.

"It's hard to say," Smith said of whether he will play against Baltimore. "We have to get all the information, look at it and evaluate it."

Smith described the injury, surgery and rehab as a long journey. It's been more than two months since Smith last played, but he believes he's close to being back. Smith said Tuesday that he will put his trust in Pittsburgh's medical staff and wait for the green light.

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