Torrey Smith's 26-yard touchdown catch from Joe Flacco more than a year ago capped the Ravens' first season sweep of the Pittsburgh Steelers since 2006. But the reverberations from that play may resonate a good deal longer.
For years, Heinz Field in Pittsburgh had become a graveyard of sorts for the Ravens, a place where AFC North title runs and postseason aspirations were laid to rest. Since the stadium opened along the Ohio River in 2001, the Ravens have lost 10 of the 14 times they have traveled there, including three times in the playoffs.
But the Ravens have won two of their last three trips to Pittsburgh, and if they can add a third win Sunday night, they might point to the Flacco-to-Smith play with eight seconds left as the catalyst to their success.
Flacco, who said he reviewed the play Wednesday morning and remembered his hesitation after spotting a penalty flag that was eventually assessed to cornerback William Gay, declined to make too much of that touchdown.
"I think each game is separate," he said. "I think we're a pretty confident team to begin with. It may help out with some of that with some of the young guys on the team, if anything."
Former Ravens outside linebacker Peter Boulware said the team should use the Flacco-to-Smith touchdown as a morale booster. During Boulware's playing days, the Ravens dropped six straight contests to the Jacksonville Jaguars before using a 32-point outburst in the second half to win, 39-36, on Sept. 10, 2000 and begin a six-game run of their own against their then-AFC Central foes.
"We've put our flag there, and we don't fear their stadium anymore," Boulware said of Heinz Field. "I hope that's the direction of the rivalry. I hope we can lay claim to that stadium and the advantage. I will say this though: the first couple years we played in Pittsburgh, they used to beat us pretty good."
The Ravens are tied with the New England Patriots and the Cincinnati Bengals for the most victories at Heinz Field, each team having won four times there. But it took the Ravens 14 trips to do so, while the Patriots have made just six visits and the Bengals have gone 11 times.
That may be why coach John Harbaugh didn't put much stock in those numbers.
"That's all stuff that I think is fun to write about, I guess, and you read about it, but it doesn't mean much to us," he said. "We're always confident. I think we're a confident football team, no matter what. It's always good to play well, and we've been playing well. We're improving and we're getting better. So that's where our confidence comes from. But it's a new challenge, it's going to be a difficult challenge. They're a great football team, but we're excited to go play them, and we're confident we will play well."
After dropping three of their first five games, the Steelers were labeled as too slow and too old to be considered worthy contenders for the Super Bowl. But four consecutive wins have put Pittsburgh (6-3) just one game behind the Ravens (7-2) in the race to capture the division.
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With quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (dislocated ribs/sprained right throwing shoulder) ruled out in favor of Byron Leftwich, the Ravens have a prime opportunity to widen the gap between themselves and their most hated rivals.
But the Steelers have yet to lose at home this season and are 11-1 in the last two years at Heinz Field. And the Ravens have been mediocre away from M&T Bank Stadium, compiling a 2-2 mark this season and a 6-6 record since 2011.
After last season's 23-20 win, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs told USA Today that Heinz Field is "the toughest place in the world to win."
"Because their fans are so involved in the game," Suggs said Wednesday when asked to explain his comment. "Their fans are just like our fans. They're emotionally tied to how their team performs. There's going to be a lot of emotion riding on this game, and they're going to live up to it. I've never had a down game like there was no energy in the stadium in Heinz Field. Last year, I said this is my Madison Square Garden. If there's one place as a football player you would want to play, it's definitely – being the bad guy at Heinz Field is definitely being the visiting team – there and M&T [Bank Stadium]. I love playing at home, but when I'm talking about opposing stadiums, there's none better to go into than Heinz Field."
Running back Ray Rice agreed with Suggs, saying that playing in Pittsburgh is an eagerly anticipated trip for the Ravens.
"Tremendous organization, much respect, but to win there definitely felt a little sweeter than we did winning here," he said. "It's always great to win on the road the way we did last year, but needless to say, last year is last year. They're a different team, we're a different team, and we're looking forward to the opportunity."