One of the most intense NFL rivalries is about to reach a new level.
The Ravens will clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers in Sunday's AFC championship game at Heinz Field, the first time these divisional adversaries will face each other in the conference title game.
It will be a chance at redemption for the Ravens, who lost both games to the Steelers this season - but by the slimmest of margins.
In a 23-20 loss at Pittsburgh, the difference was Jeff Reed's 46-yard field goal in overtime. In a 13-9 loss at M&T; Bank Stadium, the difference was a controversial touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes. (The Ravens still don't believe the ball crossed the plane of the goal line.)
Some suggest that the teams were destined to meet again.
"I told them the last time we lost to them that we're going to see them again," Ravens running back-fullback Le'Ron McClain said last night. "It's just fate."
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin agreed after the second-seeded Steelers beat the fourth-seeded San Diego Chargers, 35-24, in yesterday's AFC divisional playoff game.
"What else would you expect? Us and the Ravens," Tomlin said. "It'd be a big game if it was a scrimmage. It just happens to be the AFC championship."
Ravens players were off yesterday, a day after the sixth seed upset the top-seeded Tennessee Titans, 13-10. Ravens coach John Harbaugh will address the matchup with the Steelers at today's news conference.
In the previous 27 meetings - the Ravens trail 17-10 in the series - they have primarily played for division titles and bragging rights. Once, in January 2002, they met in the postseason, and the Steelers crushed the Ravens, 27-10.
The stakes will be higher Sunday, but the emotions always seem elevated when they face each other.
"It'll be a physical battle. Nothing can explain it," McClain said. "It's the type of game that the Ravens are prepared for. It's going to come down to who is the most physical and most determined team."
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger answered only one question about the Ravens yesterday so he could savor the win over the Chargers.
"It's going to be a battle," Roethlisberger said. "I have a feeling that it's going to be one for the ages."
The Steelers defeated the Chargers, 35-24, to set up the "matchup everybody wants to see." Page 4
Week 4, Sept. 29, Heinz Field Steelers 23, Ravens 20, OT
Remembered for: : Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't challenge a catch by Derrick Mason in the end zone that was ruled incomplete. Replays showed Mason got his toes inbounds and had control of the ball. "I didn't feel strongly about it from where I was standing," said Harbaugh, who was on the opposite side of the field. The Ravens settled for a short field goal to tie the score at 3. The Steelers' Jeff Reed (3, at left) kicked the overtime game-winner.
Week 15, Dec. 14, M&T; Bank Stadium Steelers 13, Ravens 9
Remembered for: : The Steelers scored 10 points in the fourth quarter to clinch the AFC North title and pin the Ravens' hopes on a wild-card berth. The key play was Santonio Holmes' 4-yard TD catch of a pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 43 seconds left that was replayed, reviewed and debated for days afterward. Did the ball cross the plane of the goal line? The Steelers' No. 1 defense limited the Ravens to three field goals.