OWINGS MILLS — The Baltimore Ravens’ violent grudge match against the Pittsburgh Steelers is headed to another level of vitriol, venom and vicious hits.
Moments after the Ravens (13-4) steamrolled the Kansas City Chiefs in a 30-7 AFC wild-card victory at Arrowhead Stadium, their thoughts turned toward revenge over the AFC North champion Steelers (12-4) during Saturday’s divisional playoff rematch at Heinz Field.
The Ravens suffered a bitter 13-10 loss to the Steelers in December, a setback that cost them a chance to win the division title for the first time under coach John Harbaugh.
“This is World War III to us,” Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “This is Armageddon. This is the game everyone wants to see.”
When the Ravens and the Steelers square off Saturday, it figures to be another hard-hitting battle of wills.
The Ravens aren’t just expecting an intense encounter. They expect blood to be spilled.
“It’s one of those games you kind of don’t need a pep talk to get up for,” offensive guard Ben Grubbs said. “You know it’s going to a bloodbath, a train wreck.”
Although the Ravens split the season series with the Steelers and engineered a 17-14 comeback victory earlier this season, Pittsburgh claimed supremacy in the AFC North by virtue of a superior divisional mark due to a Baltimore loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Now, the Ravens and Steelers are bracing for another brawl in a series that has featured the odd death threat or two, concussions, broken noses and blindside hits.
The stakes don’t get much higher. The victor of this game is headed to the AFC championship game to face off with the winner between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets.
The Ravens haven’t forgotten how Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and strong safety Troy Polamalu finished them off with a strong fourth quarter in Baltimore that included Roethlisberger’s game-winning touchdown pass to Isaac Redman despite breaking his nose earlier in the game and Polamalu blindsiding Joe Flacco for a game-shifting fumble.
“The last game left a bad taste in our mouth,” strong safety Dawan Landry said. “We definitely owe them one.”
In five of the past six regular-season games between the two rivals, the margin of victory has been only three points.
And the biggest margin during that span was a four-point Steelers win two years ago at M&T Bank Stadium.
Two years removed from losing 23-14 to the Steelers in the AFC championship game, here comes Round III.
“This game means nothing if we can’t get it done in Pittsburgh,” veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “We understand that the road to the Super Bowl goes through Pittsburgh and New England. We took care of the first step against the Chiefs and now we move on to Pittsburgh.”
The Ravens’ latest showdown against the Steelers will also provide a litmus test of whether the Steelers’ time off during a first-round bye or the momentum built by Baltimore in trouncing the Chiefs will have a greater impact.
The second-seeded Steelers haven’t played a game since a 41-9 rout over the Cleveland Browns on Jan. 2 on the road.
The fifth-seeded Ravens will be playing six days after traveling to Kansas City to open the postseason.
“There is definitely an advantage to having the time off from a rest perspective, and there’s probably an advantage from playing from a being sharp perspective,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “So, we’ll try to take advantage of the strengths in our favor, and hope the strengths in their favor are minimized by the way we approach what we do. I’m very confident we can get our guys rested, recovered and ready to go on Saturday.”
The Ravens did manage to build in a little rest for their defense during their shellacking of the Chiefs.
The offense controlled the football for over 41 minutes to the Chiefs’ 18:16.
And the Ravens’ defense was only on the field for 40 plays.
“I think it’s a factor, it’s better than playing 80 plays,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the defense getting off the field and the offense staying on the field. It works together. I thought that was probably our best team effort, all three phases, of the year. Time of possession is a reflection of moving the chains and getting first downs. It’s a very important factor in controlling the game.”
Heading into Saturday, the Ravens are riding a five-game winning streak.
And the Steelers have won two games in a row. Their last setback was a 22-17 loss to the Jets on Dec. 19.
They earned the week off with a tiebreaker edge over Baltimore.
In this series, everything counts.
“For such a small margin, what a big difference that makes,” Harbaugh said. “But we kind of understand who we are. We understand our path, our road. We’re not intimidated by it at all. We’re looking forward to it. We wouldn’t have it any other way at this point.”