This past offseason, just before the Steelers traveled to Baltimore to start the 2011 season against the Ravens in Week 1, I posted an article chronicling some very impressive Steelers victories over the Ravens in recent years.
I was feeling pretty confident at that point about the Steelers' superiority over the Ravens. Yes, Pittsburgh and Baltimore had a great, intense rivalry with many close, hard-hitting games, but it seemed like the Steelers always came through late in the year when the stakes were at their highest--the latest examples being the late-season win in Baltimore in 2010 that put Pittsburgh in the driver's seat for another division title, and the epic, come-from-behind victory at Heinz Field in the Divisional round of the playoffs in January that ultimately paved the way for another Super Bowl appearance for the Black and Gold.
Even when the Ravens defeated the Steelers in recent meetings, Steelers fans pointed to the fact that Ben Roethlisberger wasn't in the lineup and said, "yeah, sure, you beat the Steelers, but you did it with Dennis Dixon as the starting quarterback in '09 and Charlie Batch as the starting quarterback last season." As a Steelers fan, I was never more confident about my team's fortunes in a heated-rivalry than I was at 1pm on September 11th, just before the opening day kickoff.
The blow-out in Baltimore was so thorough, people were starting to wonder if the Steelers were "old, slow and done."
However, Pittsburgh managed to right the ship and won six of their next seven games (including a very impressive win just last week over their other arch-nemesis, the New England Patriots) and had the best record in the conference at 6-2 heading into last night's re-match with Baltimore at Heinz Field.
I was, once again, feeling confident. The Ravens had struggled a bit in their two previous games, and I thought the Steelers would return the favor and blow the Ravens out of the building.
Well, obviously that didn't happen. It was your typical Steelers/Ravens heavyweight fight, and everytime it looked like one team was about to run away with it, the other team came back with a wicked shot to the body.
The Steelers came back from 10-points down in the 4th quarter and took a 20-16 lead late in the game. When the Ravens started their last drive at their own eight yard line with less than three minutes remaining and needing a touchdown, I didn't think there was any way the defense would allow them to get even close.
James Harrison had made his triumphant return, recording three sacks and a forced fumble of Joe Flacco that led directly to the Steelers' go-ahead touchdown with just under five-minutes left. It was going to be a great victory for the Steelers and another blow to the Ravens' psyche.
However, Joe Flacco proved that he may just be ready for prime-time as he marched Baltimore right down the field on a 13-play drive and threw the game-winning touchdown pass with eight-seconds left.
If there was a way for the Ravens to make Steelers fans feel even worse than they did after the week one debacle, they managed to pull it off last night with that gut-wrenching and heartbreaking finish.
The Ravens have defeated the Steelers in two very different ways in 2011, both very crushing psychologically, and as a fan, I can do nothing but tip my cap to Baltimore and acknowledge their current upper hand in the series. Ravens fans have every right to gloat today.
I mean, if Pittsburgh went to Baltimore in week one and wiped the floor with the Ravens, I would be gloating about it.
If James Harrison made the kind of athletic play that Terrell Suggs made when he intercepted that bubble-screen early in the 3rd quarter, I would probably write an entire post about it.
If the situation was reversed last night, and Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers on an impressive 92-yard drive that culminated in the game-winning touchdown pass in the waning-seconds, I would be pounding my chest about my team's quarterback.
Even though I'm a pretty stubborn Steelers fan who cannot stand the Ravens, I have to give them their due. Great job on two very impressive wins this year.
However, I don't believe the final chapter in the Steelers/Ravens 2011 novel has been written just yet. The Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 6-3 this morning, and if the standings remain the same the rest of the way, the Steelers and Ravens would both make the playoffs. There is a very real possibility that the two teams will meet again in January.
To use a very common cliche: January football is what separates the men from the boys.
So while I'm willing to acknowledge Baltimore's greatness and give them their just due, I'm not willing to pass the torch and concede victory. The Ravens have never defeated the Steelers in the postseason, and until they do, only then will I wave the white flag.
The Baltimore Ravens have won two very important battles against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2011, but the war is not over.
See you in January, Baltimore.