The Ravens might be 0-3, but the Pittsburgh Steelers claim that they aren't looking at Thursday night's matchup as a chance to deliver another early blow to their rival's playoff hopes.
"It's a non-issue for us," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of the Ravens' winless start. "We've got respect for those guys. We know what they're capable of. It's just a start. I don't think that they're going to be defined by that when you look back at this thing as we go through it. Our focus is being ready to play and play this week."
Steelers standout running back Le'Veon Bell, who didn't play in his team's 30-17 wild-card round home loss to the Ravens in January, admitted that the Ravens' early-season struggles are a "little bit surprising." But he said that he expects nothing less than a physical, hard-fought game from a rivalry that's been long considered one of the best in the NFL.
"Once both teams start the game, the records go out the window," Bell said in a conference call with Baltimore-area reporters. "It's Pittsburgh versus Baltimore and anything can go down at any moment. Their record doesn't really affect me too much. We've got to go out there and play like they're undefeated and they're going to play like we're undefeated."
The Steelers are 2-1 and trying to keep pace with the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North. The Ravens, meanwhile, are in last place after three losses in games in which they carried a second-half lead.
The Ravens' last victory was the playoff game in Heinz Field in January. Since then, both teams have undergone significant changes. Key faces from the rivalry, such as Haloti Ngata, Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ike Taylor have moved on, either to other teams or retirement. Terrell Suggs and Ben Roethlisberger, who are arguably the two current faces of the rivalry, are injured and won't play Thursday night.
"It's continually involved," Tomlin said of the rivalry. "I've been here nine years now. I think [Ravens coach John Harbaugh's] been there eight. There's been a lot of significant faces come and go within the rivalry. I think one of the things that makes the rivalry what it is, that the new faces emerge and make significant plays on both sides. I'm excited about watching that evolve as we move forward."