With all the NFL 100th Season lists, I’ve been thinking about the histories of various Steeler rivalries. So every week for the rest of the year, I’ll post a retrospective preview, considering the two teams and setting up for the upcoming game.
This week: The Ravens
Pittsburgh 8-7 (2nd AFC North / 7th seed AFC)
Baltimore 13-2 (1st AFC North) / 1st seed AFC)
2019 Off/Def Comparisons:
....................................... Overall........... Pass ........... Rush........... Score
Steelers Offense........284 (30th).......194 (31st)........90 (26th).......18.6 (26th)
Ravens Defense.........309 (5th).........216 (7th).........94 (4th).........18.1 (3rd)
Ravens Offense.........415(2nd)...........210 (25th)...205 (1st).........33.5 (1st)
Steelers Defense........304 (4th)...........202 (5th)….102 (10th).......18.3 (4th)
Game Changing Midseason Acquisition in the Secondary:
Pittsburgh : Minkah Fitzpatrick
Since acquiring Fitzpatrick, the Steelers defense has improved almost unbelievably. Sitting at 0-2, the Steelers traded next year’s first round pick for the 2nd year safety, and immediately went on an 8-3 run (which cooled down the last two weeks). With Fitzpatrick, they give up two fewer touchdowns per game, as well as six fewer first downs, and 162.5 fewer yards per game (136 passing, 27.5 rushing). They also improved in takeaways from 1.0 per game to 2.6 (a 162% improvement). The last time a brand new acquisition affected his team this dramatically was probably Peyton Manning going to the Broncos.
Baltimore : Marcus Peters
The Ravens traded for Peters after their sixth game with the team sitting at 4-2, and have gone 9-0 since. Comparatively, their defense gives up 8.7 fewer points per game since acquiring the cornerback. They give up 1.5 fewer first downs and 68 fewer yards per game, and snag 50% more takeaways. Peters’s overall effect on the Ravens has clearly been a net positive, if a bit more subtle than Fitzpatrick’s on the Steelers, but it has actually been mixed too. Since Peters came to town, the Ravens have given up 89.5 fewer passing yards than they did, but they give up 21.5 more rushing yards per game.
Player in Common:
Rod Woodson (Pittsburgh, 1987-96, 1st Rd 1987, 14 overall / signed with Baltimore, 1998-2001)
Woodson’s Hall of Fame career will always be associated with the Steelers, where he was drafted and spent his first decade in football, achieving his greatest success (including being named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1993). But he also served as the elder statesman on the historic 2000 Ravens defense, after switching from cornerback to safety. He played in Super Bowls for both franchises in historic fashion — suiting up and playing well during the Steelers failed Super Bowl XXX despite tearing his ACL in the preseason, then of course getting his ring in Baltimore five years later. (He also suited up for the Raiders in their Super Bowl loss to Mike Tomlin’s Buccaneers.) Woodson was named to the NFL’s 75th anniversary team in 1994, just seven years into his career, and was of course just named to the NFL’s 100th anniversary team.
HISTORY (including 2019):
Pittsburgh 672-590-22 (.532)
Baltimore 228-178- 1 (.561)
Steelers have the 4th most wins in NFL history; 11th best all time winning percentage. Ravens short existence hurts their raw win total, where they sit at 29th, but their win percentage started the season at 6th (.549), and over the season, has jumped to 5th, surpassing the Miami Dolphins.
Pittsburgh 510-322-3 (.613)
Baltimore 228-178-1 (.561)
Steelers are the winningest team in the NFL since the 1970 AFL/NFL merger. Ravens, again, don’t have the raw numbers through no fault of their own, sitting at 29th in overall wins. Their winning percentage, however, drops to #7. The Steelers are #1.
Pittsburgh 220-122-2 (.643)
Baltimore 204-139-0 (.595)
The Steelers are the #2 team in the NFL this millennium. Baltimore sits at #5.
Coach Comparison (counting 2019):
……………………………..…….. Mike Tomlin…...John Harbaugh
Years at the Helm…………………………….13………………………12
Regular Season Record…………………..133-73-1……………….117-74-0
Conference Championship Appearances…....3……………………….3
Record in AFC Championship Games…....2-1…………………….1-2
Super Bowl Appearances……………………...2……………………….1
Super Bowl Championships…………………...1……………………….1
Losing Seasons ………….……………………..0……………………….1
Overall Wins (head to head)..………………...13………………...……13
Playoff Wins (head to head)..…………...……..2.………………………1
Greatest Playoff Catch:
Pittsburgh : Immaculate Reception (1972)
Baltimore : Mile High Miracle (2013)
The Mile High Miracle led to a Super Bowl, true. But the Immaculate Reception is generally understood as the greatest single play in NFL history.
(Note: Advantage Steelers)
Two Best Safeties of the Modern Era:
Pittsburgh : Troy Polamalu, SS (2003-14)
8 Pro Bowls, 6-time All Pro (4 first team), Defensive Player of the Year 2010, two time Super Bowl Champ, member of All Decade Team 2000s, Hall of Fame finalist this year (results TBA)
Baltimore : Ed Reed, FS (2002-2013)
9 Pro Bowls, 8-time All Pro (5 first team), Defensive Player of the Year 2004, one time Super Bowl champ, member of All Decade Team 2000s, Hall of Fame (first ballot 2019)
Best Re-Tread Quarterback
Pittsburgh : Bobby Layne (1958-61)
After nine years (and two NFL titles) with the Detroit Lions, Hall of Famer Layne is traded to the Steelers, where he posts a 27-19-2 record (.583) over his final five seasons. Despite playing in Pittsburgh from ages 32-36 — and Layne’s reputation as a hard drinker — he is the most successful (only successful?) quarterback in the team’s history until Terry Bradshaw hits his stride in the mid-70s. That said, he fails to lead the team to the postseason in any of his years in town.
Baltimore : Steve McNair (2006-07)
After eleven years, one Super Bowl and an NFL co-MVP award in Tennessee, McNair signs with Baltimore to replace Kyle Boller, and immediately makes the Ravens a better team. The team’s record improves from 6-10 to 13-3 in his first year in town. Oft-injured McNair only lasts two season in Baltimore, posting a 2-4 record in 2007 before retiring for good. His overall winning percentage .681 (15-7) was by far the best for a Ravens starter until Lamar Jackson arrived (though admittedly, Jackson probably won’t sustain this winning pace for a whole career).
(Advantage: Push. McNair got his team to the playoffs, but Layne is a Hall of Famer and gave the Steelers more seasons on the brink.)
Best Pony Backfield
Pittsburgh : Franco Harris & Rocky Bleier (1972-80)
Baltimore : Jamal Lewis & Priest Holmes (2000-01)
Lewis and Holmes were both All Pros and legitimate stars; it’s amazing to think of them in the same backfield. But Franco and Rocky won four Lombardi’s. More importantly, only one of these men has a Hall of Fame jacket, and only one of these men has a Purple Heart.
Best Linebacker Duo
Pittsburgh : Jack Lambert & Jack Ham (1974-82)
Between them: 17 Pro Bowls, 12 first team All Pro seasons (4 second team), two NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, one Defensive Rookie of the Year. Eight Super Bowl rings; two Hall of Fame busts. Both men were on the team of the 70s, Lambert also the 80s. Both Lambert and Ham were named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and the NFL’s 100th Anniversary team.
Baltimore : Ray Lewis & Terrell Suggs (2003-12)
Between them: 20 Pro Bowls, 8 first team All Pro seasons (4 second team), three NFL Defensive Player of the Year Awards, one Defensive Rookie of the Year. Three Super Bowl rings; one Hall of Fame bust (though Suggs is still playing). Lewis on the Team of the 2000s, and the NFL’s 100th Anniversary team.
Best Rod Woodson
Pittsburgh : 1993
Defensive Player of the Year. AFC Player of the Year. First team All Pro (second consecutive year), fifth straight Pro Bowl. 95 tackles, 8 interceptions (138 yards, 1 touchdown), 2 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 3 fumble recoveries. Also Steelers’ primary punt and kick returner. The next year, he’d be named to the NFL’s 75th Anniversary Team (after only seven seasons).
Baltimore : 1999
Pro Bowler at Free Safety (first season at safety; first Pro Bowl with Ravens). 66 tackles, 7 interceptions (194 yards, 2 touchdowns), 2 fumble recoveries. The next year, he’d win a Super Bowl ring with these Ravens.
Best Defense of All Time?
Pittsburgh : 1976.
After a 1-4 start, the team wins nine straight, giving up a total of 27 points (3 points per game), pitching a staggering five shutouts. After a blowout win in the Divisional playoffs, they lose the AFC Championship when their entire offensive running game gets injured.
On the season, the Steelers defense finishes first in points, yards, first downs, rushing yards, rushing average, and rushing touchdowns. They give up an amazing 3.8 yards per play to their opponents (rushing and passing), and allow 14 touchdowns on the season (one per game).
Hall of Fame MLB Jack Lambert is Defensive Player of the Year, playing alongside three other Hall of Famers. The team sports two All Pros; eight Pro Bowlers.
Baltimore : 2000.
Ravens pitch four shutouts (including an opening day 16-0 win over Kent Graham’s Steelers), and finish with a Super Bowl victory, giving up less than a touchdown per game in the postseason.
In the regular season, they finish first in points, takeaways, and rushing yards, touchdowns, and yards per attempt. They allow opponents 4.3 yards per play (rushing and passing), and allow 16 touchdowns on the year (one per game).
Hall of Fame MLB Ray Lewis is Defensive Player of the Year, playing alongside HOF SS Rod Woodson. Lewis is the only All Pro, but Woodson and Sam Adams are also Pro Bowlers.
(Note: I’ll call this a single-season push, but only because the Ravens finished with a Lombardi, and the Steelers started their year so slow. These Steelers were better for longer, and more untouchable for that nine-game stretch than anyone’s ever been; if they’d have kept this blistering pace for a full season, this would be the standard for every defense forever. Frankly, I’m also kind of amazed that the Ravens only had one All Pro and three Pro Bowlers on that defense, and didn’t even lead the league in yards. Maybe this one should go to the Steelers after all.)
Origin of the Name:
Pittsburgh Steelers is reference to industrial steel workers who made Pittsburgh what it is; named after a contest in 1940.
Baltimore Ravens is a reference to Baltimore-native Edgar Allen Poe’s iconic poem, “The Raven”; named after a contest in 1998.
* These are both awesome. They’re locally relevant, were chosen by fans, and refer to two great things: the hard-working industrial foundations of America, or one of the great and beloved writers in American literature. I respect both of these. No wonder these two teams are both good.
HEAD TO HEAD:
Pittsburgh 28 – 23
Pittsburgh 3 – 1
Baltimore – 1w (week 5, 2019, in OT)
Pittsburgh – 5 games (1997-99, 2001-03*)
Baltimore – 4 games (2014-16*)
* includes a playoff game
September 8, 1996
Pittsburgh – 31
Baltimore – 17
This was essentially a Browns vs. Steelers matchup, as Art Modell had just moved the Ravens down to Baltimore (after firing that buzzkill of a coach, Bill Belichick). The Steelers were coming off a Super Bowl loss, and were the far superior team, even if Mike Tomczak started at quarterback. Rod Woodson returned an INT 43 yards for the game’s first touchdown, but the real star of the day was newly acquired running back Jerome Bettis, who ran for 116 yards and a score as the Steelers held a ten minute advantage in time of possession. The real Ravens Steelers rivalry was still a few years off.
Most Recent game:
October 6, 2019
Pittsburgh – 23
Baltimore – 26OT
The Steelers fell to 1-4 on the season in this overtime heartbreaker from week five. Mason Rudolph started and was playing reasonably well, until a helmet-to-chin should-have-been-ejected shot from Earl Thomas knocked him out of the game. Undrafted rookie Devlin Hodges then stepped in and led the Steelers to overtime, going 7-9 with no turnovers on the day. Duck wasn’t the story of this game though. Instead, the story we should all have been talking about that next week was Steelers defense putting the clamps on presumptive MVP Lamar Jackson and the vaunted Ravens offensive attack. On the game, the Steelers sacked Jackson five times, intercepted him three times, and recorded eleven(!) tackles for losses. When the Steelers won the overtime coin toss, Mike Tomlin elected to kick away to Jackson to start the period, reasoning that his defense could handle the prima donna. And amazingly, they did just that. The Ravens went three and out on their opening overtime possession, with Jackson sacked by Bud Dupree on 2nd down, then throwing a 1 yard pass on 3rd and 15 before punting right back to the Steelers. JuJu Smith-Schuster immediately caught his seventh pass of the day, as the Steelers appeared poised to drive for the winning field goal. Unfortunately, JuJu was stripped of the ball, and Baltimore recovered in field goal range. Nonetheless, their legendary attack went nowhere, leaving Justin Tucker to kick a a 46 yarder for the win (which, unfortunately, he hit).
This was the Steelers’ third loss in four weeks by four points of less, to a team that wound up with 11 or more victories on the season. They would go on to win their next four, and seven of their next eight, before running out of gas down the stretch. For my money, this game was a real bellwether for how good this team COULD have been with just a tiny bit more luck on injuries. That said, given this game and the Ravens sitting their starters Sunday, we’re almost guaranteed that, heading into next season, Lamarr Jackson’s only start against the Steelers will be the worst game of his career. That sets up some interesting future matchups.
Biggest Game in the Series:
January 18, 2009 (AFC Championship Game)
Pittsburgh – 23
Baltimore – 14
One of the most iconic games of the millennium, not just for the Steelers and Ravens, but in the NFL. The devastating hard hitting contest, featuring second year coach Mike Tomlin and young Ben Roethlisberger against rookie coach John Harbaugh and rookie QB Joe Flacco. But the real stars were on defense in this one. The Ravens defense featured two Hall of Famers (and probably a third, in T-Sizzle), but the Steelers defense took the day.
It was a hard-hitting, frigid day. Icon and Raven-killer Hines Ward twisted his knee and left the game in the second quarter. Later, Ward’s running mate, Santonio Holmes, turned a busted play into a 43 yard touchdown. In the third quarter, sideline mic’s caught Ray Lewis on the sideline, haranguing Harbaugh for pulling him off the field—“take me off the field and they always attack the spot! I’m telling you, I’ve been playing these guys for 13 years!” That’s the level of intensity in this one.
Out of numerous memorable plays, my favorite came on a 3rd quarter 4th and inches, with 6’6 Flacco pushing for the quarterback sneak. The whole stadium knew what was coming—strength against strength; the question was who would push harder. Or rather, it was until Troy Polamalu made one of those plays no one else on earth could make. Using his sixth sense for timing the snap count, and his spectacular agility and strength, number 43 leapt over the line of scrimmage right at the snap and wrestled Flacco down. Change of possession; Steelers’ ball. (A player like Polamalu will never come again.)
In the fourth quarter, Lewis pumped up his teammates by saying, “today we make Joe Flacco immortal.” Hmm, not exactly. Trailing 14-16, the Ravens took possession for a chance to win on a field goal. Flacco took a hit from James Harrison as he threw, and Polamalu undercut the pass with a leaping grab, then (in one of the great interception returns you’ll see) cut across the field 40 yards for the pick-6 that iced the game.
You could point to Ryan Clark’s terrifying knock-out blow to Willis McGahee as the games coup-de-gras, but I like to come back to Polamalu, who pointed into the stands as he crossed the goal line – motioning at his wife and newborn baby in the stands, he later explained, “so they’d know I was thinking about them.” After this one, the Steelers were off to Tampa to win their sixth ring.
Other Memorable Games (there are a lot of these):
December 10, 2017
Pittsburgh – 39
Baltimore – 38
In a game that would clinch the division for the Steelers, Baltimore led by 11 heading into the fourth quarter, before the Steelers launched their second consecutive 11+ comeback win (one of too many that season) to pull out the win in a shootout. I wanted to mention this one, but there are so many consequential games in this series, there’s nothing else to really say. Onward.
December 25, 2016
Pittsburgh – 31
Baltimore – 27
The Immaculate Extension. On Christmas Day in 2016, the Steelers and Ravens met up in a game that would decide the division (not the first time or the last with that pressure). Baltimore went up by ten in the fourth quarter, before the Steelers hung up 21 points in the final period on three drives of 75, 90, and 75. The final one was most memorable.
The Steelers gave up the go-ahead touchdown with 1:18 to go in the game, then covered 71 yards in 9 plays, taking just over a minute, to land at the Baltimore 4 yard line with 9 seconds left and no timeouts. The smart play would be to kick the chip-shot tying field goal and take the game to overtime. Instead, Ben Roethlisberger hit Antonio Brown on his 10th catch of the day, at the goal line, but in the middle of the field, with no chance to get out of bounds or line up for a spike. If Brown got in the end zone on this play, the Steelers would go to the playoffs; if he got stopped, the Ravens would go. Brown, famously, was hit by three Ravens, including Pro Bowlers C.J. Mosely and Eric Weddle (who had chosen Baltimore when he left San Diego in free agency even though Pittsburgh had courted him aggressively). Brown — all 186 pounds of him — out-muscled them all, stretching the ball over the goal line despite Weddle clearly grabbing his facemask (see photo above).
It’s such a shame Brown lost his mind in the last 18 months. This play ought to be an all-time great image of heart and will overcoming muscle and attitude. It’s hard to celebrate Brown these days, but man, we were lucky to watch the guy play.
December 27, 2015
Pittsburgh – 17
Baltimore – 20
I’m of the opinion that the 2015 edition of the Steelers was their strongest squad from this late 2010s. They were scrappy, thrilling, star-studded, and deep. But their kryptonite was the Ravens, who pulled off a rare sweep despite starting third-string quarterback Ryan Mallett in this contest. The Steelers were in the middle of one of the most challenging and impressive streaks in recent memory (including setting passing records against the Legion of Boom in a shootout against the two time defending NFC champion Seahawks, blowing out contenders in Indianapolis and Cincinnati, who would eventually win the AFC North, and posting a frantic cardiac comeback against the eventual champion Broncos and their “No Fly Zone”). In a way, that makes this a classic trap game. And the Steelers fell flat.
Despite the loss, the Steelers hit the playoffs in powerful fashion, but ran into filthy play of Vontaze Burfict and the Cincinnati Bengals in two weeks. Who knew that the hard-hitting Steelers and Ravens would never destroy each other’s seasons with injury and dirty play, but that the hopeless Cincinnati Bengals could sandbag a great team instead?
January 3, 2015 (AFC Wild Card Game)
Pittsburgh – 17
Baltimore – 30
Another season cut short because of a key injury suffered against the Bengals. Le’Veon Bell led the AFC in rushing yards and yards from scrimmage in 2014, but he’d hyperextended his knee in a week 17 victory over Cincinnati —and the Steelers missed him. Having cut Lagarrette Blount late in the season (after Blount pouted and complained like the obnoxious child he was) the Steelers were left without a solid backup for Bell. They signed former Texan Ben Tate off the street and started him alongside undrafted rookie Josh Harris. The result was uninspiring. When Tate let a checkdown pass bounce off his hands, and right into Terrell Suggs’ breadbasket, the Ravens (who were themselves defending Super Bowl champs) took advantage, and walked away with the win.
November 2, 2014
Pittsburgh – 43
Baltimore – 23
The Steelers began the resurgence of the last half-decade with a ridiculous mid-season stretch in 2014. The previous week, in a 51-34 win over the Indianapolis Colts, Ben Roethlisberger had thrown for 522 yards and six touchdowns. On this day, he didn’t quite match the numbers, but came shockingly close, becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw six touchdowns on back-to-back weeks.
On this day, Baltimore clamped down on the run, and hit hard—toeing the line between clean and dirty play (as Harbaugh’s teams often do). They stuffed the run entirely, then put a hit on Roethlisberger’s chin early in the game (stop my if you’ve heard that one before, Mason Rudolph). Big Ben channeled his inner Popeye though, and blasted the Ravens for the next three quarters. In the end, he hit five different receivers for touchdowns and the Steelers won in a walk.
September 11, 2011
Pittsburgh – 7
Baltimore – 35
Opening week. The Steelers were coming off of their third AFC title in five seasons, having ended Baltimore’s season in the 2010 playoffs (for the second time in three years). The Ravens spent all offseason preparing for this one, and won their personal Super Bowl, ambushing the Steelers in a revenge match. This game was memorable for me because, in the third quarter, after scoring to make it 26-7, John Harbaugh called a two-point PAT for the sole purpose of running up the score. I’ve watched Harbaugh and his brother throw temper tantrums on the field for over a decade (the moaning Harbaugh Face ought to be just as recognizable as the Manning Face). But this was the first time I ever thought, “this petty little whiner is a bad sport even when he’s winning.” I have a high regard the Ravens as players, but Harbaugh lost my respect on that play. Jerk.
January 15, 2011 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Pittsburgh – 31
Baltimore – 24
Baltimore comes to Pittsburgh in the playoffs for the second time in three years. In this one, the Ravens jump out to a big lead, but the Steelers own the second half. The game culminates with Big Ben throwing a rocket to rookie Antonio Brown for 58 yards on 3rd and 19, in an absolutely bonkers display of guts and talent. I wrote an article about this game a couple years ago, comparing it to the opener in 2015. I’ll link to it here. I loved this game.
December 5, 2010
Pittsburgh – 13
Baltimore – 10
As the score indicates, the defenses were on fire in this one, as both teams combined for 97 yards rushing, but 18 penalties. Ben Roethlisberger had a painful day, breaking his nose on an uncalled chop to the face (the doctors said it looked like cornflakes) but Big Ben didn’t leave the game somehow. Before the contest started, Terrell Suggs famously said he owned Big Ben’s [posterior], and eventually sacked Roethlisberger 1.5 times on the day. In the second half, though, Suggs famously couldn’t wrap up Big Ben on a late blitz. The two grappled for a full two seconds, before Ben left-hand pitched the ball away for an incomplete pass. A nothing-play in the box score, it was a pretty definitive look at both of those gladiators. (Suggs would later say he thought the NFL was unfair in how it favored Tom Brady and Peyton Manning when calling roughing the passer, and let guys like Ben get clobbered — a classy move by a guy who always respected the rivalry.)
Late in the 4th, with the Ravens leading 10-6, Troy Polamalu crept to the line and torpedoed Joe Flacco, tomahawking the ball, which Lamarr Woodley recovered. A few plays later, Ben hit Isaac Redman, who pinballed through the Ravens D for the game-winner. Suggs later said, in disbelief, “Is that something new? ...When you see 43 at the line, four-minute offense, he’s coming. It was like, ‘Man, I hope we’ve got a plan,’ because it just didn’t feel good when I saw that hair at the line of scrimmage...”
December 14, 2008
Pittsburgh – 13
Baltimore – 9
Another low-scoring Ravens/Steelers tilt with everything on the line. This one is famous mostly for the late touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes, which Holmes caught while falling out of the end zone (that is, onto the field of play). Did the ball break the plane in his possession? Ravens fans say no; referees said yes. Steelers won. This game was essentially the difference between the Steelers getting the AFC’s #2 seed (which they got) and #5 seed (which Baltimore got), setting up the AFC title game in Pittsburgh instead of Baltimore (see above: biggest game in the series).
November 5, 2007
Pittsburgh – 38
Baltimore – 7
Steelers unveil their 75th anniversary team at halftime, and (as often happens when the stars come out at Heinz Field) the team plays possessed. Ben Roethlisberger throws five touchdowns in the first half, and he isn’t anywhere near the player of the game. This is James Harrison’s day. Harrison had sat behind Joey Porter and Clark Haggans for the last couple years, but when new coach Mike Tomlin released Porter, it became Harrison’s time to shine. This was where it happened: 10 tackles (9 solo), 3 tackles for losses, 6 QB hits, 3.5 sacks. 3 forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, and an interception. This stat line would make a reasonable season for some players. He also absolutely destroyed Ed Reed on a punt return and clearly rattled Steve McNair (a veteran and pro bowler). It might be the most dominant performance by one man over the last twenty years.
November 26, 2006
Pittsburgh – 0
Baltimore – 27
The Steelers Super Bowl hangover was complicated – Big Ben nearly died twice in the offseason (motorcycle accident, then appendicitis), Jerome Bettis finally hung it up, and Bill Cowher had two feet out the door. But that’s no excuse for this game, or the other (which the Ravens also won, 31-7). Roethlisberger was pummeled all game long. On one particularly devastating hit from Bart Scott, the wind got knocked out of him, and he writhed on the ground unable to breathe. The Ravens (who hated playing against him, but must have respected the guy) stood over him worried, saying, “Come on Ben. Get up, man.” Ben has often called it the worst hit of his career.
September 19, 2004
Pittsburgh – 13
Baltimore – 30
The Steelers were coming off of a 6-10 season. They snuck past the Raiders in week 1, but in week 2 they got blasted by the Ravens. This game shouldn’t matter, and it didn’t, until starting quarterback Tommy Maddox popped his elbow. Backup Charlie Batch had broken his leg in the preseason, so raw rookie Ben Roethlisberger (who wasn’t supposed to see the field all year) was pressed into duty. He couldn’t pull out the save this week, but he won the next 13 (including the rematch against Baltimore) on the way to the most successful rookie season a quarterback’s ever had.
December 28, 2003
Pittsburgh – 10
Baltimore – 13*OT
This was the final game of the 2003 season—a forgettable one for the Steelers, who finished a disappointing 6-10. The Ravens, meanwhile, were a 10-6 division champ. There wasn’t much at stake in this one except a little bit of history: Ravens running back Jamal Lewis was on the cusp of breaking Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. Lewis entered with 1952 yards; 154 would put him over the line. In the way no one wants to be the pitcher that gives up the record setting home run, the Steelers didn’t want the single-season rushing record to be set on their watch. Pittsburgh lost the game in overtime, but despite the extra period, they held Lewis to 114. Lewis finished with 2066 yards, then the second highest single season total ever, and the Steelers (relieved) started scouting players for the eleventh pick in the 2004 draft.
January 20, 2002
Pittsburgh – 27
Baltimore – 10
The game where Joey Porter (who didn’t even dress after being shot in the hip during a drive-by outside a club in Colorado) tried to follow Ray Lewis onto the Ravens bus and fight. This nonsense would have been a significant spectacle in the rivalry with ANY other team, but it barely merits mentioning in this huge list of important games.
January 20, 2002 (AFC Divisional Playoffs)
Pittsburgh – 27
Baltimore – 10
The Ravens were defending Super Bowl Champs, with all the swagger of a defense that believes it is an icon. The teams split their series during the year in two tight contests, with the Ravens 13-10 win being especially demoralizing, as Steeler kicker Kris Brown went 1-5 on field goals on the day. The Steelers finished 13-3 anyway, and took the AFC’s top seed, forcing the defending champs into a Wild Card spot. These were the two top defenses in football, so you’d expect a defensive slug-out. Instead, it was a runaway, with the Steelers out-rushing the Ravens by 132 yards (154 to 22) and pounding the defending champs by 17.
October 29, 2000
Pittsburgh – 9
Baltimore – 6
For my money, this was the first of the great Steelers/Ravens games. Pittsburgh was coming off of two straight losing seasons and would miss the playoffs this year as well, but they had rebuilt a strong defense and Jerome Bettis was in his prime. Baltimore was in the finest year of their history, with their historic defense, and an offense featuring Jamal Lewis, Priest Holmes, and Shannon Sharpe. They would win the Super Bowl in the end.
This game was straight out of the 1890s—three yards and a cloud of dust for sixty minutes, with two of the best brick-wall defenses in the league. (People often forget this, but that Steelers defense had pitched two consecutive shutouts of their own heading into the Baltimore game, and didn’t give up a touchdown for 21 consecutive quarters from weeks 6-11.) On this day, a 54 yard Kordell Steward to Hines Ward strike was the only touchdown of the game (though Kris Brown missed the extra point). In the end, the Steelers held on, dropping the Ravens to a desperation-level 5-4 in the season’s second half. It was the final loss Baltimore would suffer. And the heavyweight fights of the next twenty years were on.