A victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers today at Memorial Stadium would be especially gratifying for the Ravens, but at this point in the season, so would any win.
Today's opponent just happens to be the Steelers (9-3), who were the Cleveland Browns' biggest rivals. The Steelers can win the AFC Central title with a win over the Ravens (3-9) and with a loss or tie by the Houston Oilers, who play the New York Jets.
"This is my first year here, so I wasn't a Cleveland Brown," said Ravens right guard Jeff Blackshear. "I've heard that Cleveland hates Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh hates Cleveland.
"But for me, every week is a big week and every game is a big game. If we win this game, it becomes even bigger, not because it's against Pittsburgh, but because we haven't won a game in a long time."
It has been five weeks since the Ravens' last win, a 37-31 overtime victory against the St. Louis Rams on Oct. 27. The Ravens have lost seven of their past eight and aren't expected to upset the Steelers, who are favored by six points.
"They know how to win," Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda said of the Steelers. "They've made it a habit the last four or five years, and they carry a confidence that comes from that. We want to be where they are. They believe they can win each week. We have doubts.
"A good way to get rid of the doubts is to beat a quality team like the Steelers, and we're going to do everything we can to get that done this week."
Not much has changed for the Steelers since the last time the teams met, Sept. 8. In that game, Jerome Bettis ran for 116 yards on 21 attempts, Mike Tomczak completed 18 of 25 passes for 198 yards and two touchdowns, and Pittsburgh handled the Ravens, 31-17.
The Steelers' offensive game plan won't change much today -- it will be more Bettis up close and personal. Some of the Ravens took offense when Bettis talked about how big the holes were in the defense after the last game.
"When he gets going, it's really hard to stop him," said Ravens defensive tackle Rick Lyle. "I thought we had a good game plan the last time we faced them, but we didn't execute it. He is a big, strong runner and you really have to tie him up. We figure if we can shut him down early, it improves our chances."
That would put the game in the hands of the inconsistent Tomczak, the conference's 10th-ranked quarterback. He has completed 160 of 281 for 2,115 yards and 10 touchdowns with 11 interceptions.
The Ravens probably will hit Tomczak with a lot of new blitzes today.
"Mike has played well when he needed to," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher. "But he would agree that he has been inconsistent. We're looking at some things, including mechanics. No one is looking at himself harder than Mike. But for the most part, he has stepped up and done the job."
Ravens quarterback Vinny Testaverde, having perhaps his best season with 3,166 passing yards, also can expect to see a lot of blitzes. The Steelers figure Testaverde will make at least two bad decisions that will lead to interceptions.
Cornerback Rod Woodson intercepted Testaverde on the second play of the Sept. 8 game and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown. The Ravens also had three fumbles in that game, one by Testaverde that led to a Steelers touchdown and another by the since-released Earnest Hunter at the Steelers' 2-yard line with a little more than five minutes left.
If they eliminate the turnovers, the Ravens say that they can stay in the game offensively. So does Cowher.
"San Francisco, Denver, they gave them everything they can handle," Cowher said. "A couple of injuries have set them back, but they have been in so many games in the fourth quarter. Their offense is as potent as any we'll face this season."
But around the Ravens' training complex, the players aren't too concerned about statistics. They're talking about making big plays, which they haven't done in the past four weeks while blowing second-half leads.
"In football, you don't have to have a Michael Jordan who needs to dominate a game or the overtime period," said Marchibroda. "You just need to be Michael Jordan for one play. We can't make the one play."
Testaverde said: "We're not hexed or cursed. We're just not making the plays to win."
Pub Date: 12/01/96