Ravens vs. Steelers: Top 20 Games of the NFL's Hardest Hitting Rivalry
Tired of the same, boring NFL Lockout chitter-chatter? I think that we all are basically on the same page regarding the monotony of this summer's NFL headlines.
De-certification has become....certifiably boring.
The perfect cure for what ails all is an article dedicated to the most hardest-hitting rivalry in the NFL today, ranking the best of the best of what happens between the white stripes and not in a boardroom.
Let's take a moment to jump from the white collar world of CBA's and into the most blue-collar, heavy-hitting match-up in the game today. From Kordell Stewart to Ben Roethlisberger, Trent Dilfer to Joe Flacco, Bam Morris to Ray Rice, and Yancy Thigpen to Hines Ward, this countdown should be a pleasant reprieve from those lockout blues.
These are the top 20 games in the history of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry. Although only established in 1996 when Cleveland's "Anti-Clause" to the normal Santa Clause moved their beloved Browns to Maryland, the rivalry has still already yielded a number of great memories.
In order to truly appreciate the match-ups, let's take a trip down Nostalgia Way, otherwise known as Touchdown Drive, and more aptly dubbed as Memory Lane....
These are the top 20 Ravens-Steelers games, to-date!
A Lesson in Smashmouth: What Is Ravens-Steelers?
Arguably the greatest modern NFL rivalry, the Steelers and Ravens are unmistakably each others’ greatest nemeses. While the Raiders and Browns of yesteryear have given the Steelers’ Black n’ Gold a little bit of extra blues, their competitiveness has since feigned. Leave it to the old Browns, Modell’s Movers, to have more than picked up the slack.
Hundred-yard rushers and west coast precision: that isn't Steelers-Ravens. If you're a real fan of real football (and these fans know exactly what that means), you have a stake claimed in each contest, all of them a chapter in the clear precedent set for modern ballgame battery. Steelers-Ravens is as much your mother's football game as a Cadillac is your janitor's mode of transportation.
The flame was ignited seventeen years ago, when the former Cleveland Browns relocated to Baltimore, making Art Modell the most ire-inspiring man in the state of Ohio, narrowly beating John Elway and heftily out-menacing the devil himself. While the “new Browns” stake claim to the old record book of Cleveland Browns lore, the true fans know that with the original Browns moved the Steelers’ greatest foes. As history builds onto the tradition, the heated glare from either side will continue to be enough to put the letters of c-h-a-r into arch-rivals. Steelers fans know the fiery ire that burns bird feathers!
The Ravens’ strategy has always started with defense. Perhaps this mirror identity since their NFL inception is the best explanation for the rivalry. The saying goes, as I recall, “familiarity breeds contempt.” When it comes to these teams squaring off, head-to-head (often literally), defensive slug-fests are not at a premium.
This list honors the modern-day rivalry by counting down the series' top 20 games.
Considerations for my selections include:
Game quality, overall team or certain individual performances, implications, importance, and that unmistakable primal intensity.
Pre-Countdown: Baltimore Dominates Pittsburgh in 2006
To be fair, the Steelers have a decided edge in the history of the rivalry, so just due to simple mathematics, they have an edge with respect to positive moments during this countdown. Nonetheless, the Ravens have had their bright moments in the series. For example, I would be remiss not to mention 2006.
Ravens 58. Steelers 7.
That was the combined score for the 2006 season between these teams.
The Ravens won in Steel-town 31-7, effectively ending the playoff hopes of the defending champion Steelers and sending the Heinz Field faithful home to ponder a season that could have been. The Steelers had just won the Super Bowl in February, and now they were on the verge of a losing season.
Baltimore won their home game in even more dominating fashion, 27-0, just a couple short weeks earlier.
Indeed, those ravenous Ravens fans always have 2006 to summon from the historic gallery when the boastful Steelers fan cries out, "3-0 in the playoffs, baby!"
They always have their send-off of Bill Cowher with a giant black feather in his otherwise shiny career crown. And they always have the moment Bart Scott blew up the tower that is Big Ben (see video).
The Steelers did win a game on Sunday Night in 1997, 37-0, over Baltimore.
But, for sheer overpowering momentum against two established and proud clubs, even that paled in comparison to the clinic the Ravens put on Pittsburgh throughout all of 2006. If I had to put the reason into an equation, it would be: Steve McNair= Steelers Achilles’ Heel. The Steelers struggled against McNair throughout his career, and when coupled with the Ravens, it was like purple Kryptonite for the Men of Steel.
Pre-Countdown: Honorable Mentions
Before we officially begin, what's a countdown without a few gutless honorable mentions?
- In 2000, the Ravens opened up the season at Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers’ final home opener in the old bowl, shutting out the Steelers 16-0. Public perception was that the Ravens would be an improved club and playoff contender, but I was skeptical. My skepticism was silenced as Tony Banks (not a misprint) played well enough to allow that legendary Ravens defense to control the tempo for 60 minutes.
- In the 2003 opener, Tommy Maddox and the Steelers defeated the Ravens in what could be argued as Maddox’s final great start in Pittsburgh. While he had a few more statistically well-played games later in the season, this performance occurred at a time when expectations were high, and Maddox delivered with a great offensive output. His pass over the middle to Hines Ward to make the score 27-0 in the 3rd quarter put a stake in the Raven’s nest, and the Steelers won 34-15.
- In the "first-ever" (cough, cough... it seemed like they have met before in some other midwestern town?) meeting between the franchises, Mike Tomczak lead the Steelers in a first half shootout, and the Black n' Gold carried a 28-17 halftime lead to a convincing win, 31-17. Most notably, this game began with a Rod Woodson pick-6 of Vinny Testaverde for the game’s first score. Steelers fans have come to respect Vinny for his penchant to provide them with critical turnovers, and they respect Rod Woodson because he was just that damn good. A fitting way to begin the series!
- In 2004, the Steelers were being decimated in Baltimore, and Tommy Maddox was holding his elbow, looking to the skies. At this point, with a season of repair now in motion, rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger came into the game. After a couple of late, meaningless touchdowns against Baltimore, who won 30-13 in the Steelers only loss that regular season, Ben won in a hurricane in Miami. The Steelers finished 15-1, capping the greatest start to a career (in win-loss ratio) at quarterback in NFL history.
#20. Steelers Christen Ravens' New Nest (In Baltimore, 1998)
The Steelers christened Baltimore’s new stadium in dominating fashion, though the final score wasn’t an accurate indicator. Leading 20-6 late in the 4th quarter, Steelers halfback Richard Huntley burst through the line and seemed to be touchdown-bound during a 50-yard scamper. This would have made the score 27-6.
However, the Ravens caught him from behind and knocked the ball loose. It rolled out of the back of the end zone, rewarding Baltimore a touchback.
From there, Baltimore capitalized with a quick six points and even recovered an onside kick, creating an ominous feeling in Steel town. The door had opened for the miraculous; yet, even to this day, I hear people saying 10-point games are over with a few minutes to go. Never. Not now, not ever. The soon-to-be 27-6 affair was now painstakingly close.
For a moment, headlines were being prepared: “Steelers Steal Defeat from the Jaws of Victory on Opening Day.” Baltimore’s goose, albeit not as thoroughly cooked as it should have been, was well-done and eventually consumed. The Ravens were swallowed up on their final drive, and the Steelers enjoyed their first course in what would later prove to be Bill Cowher’s first ever non-playoff qualifying season.
#19. Mason Drops Sure-Fire Touchdown (In Pittsburgh, 2009)
Derrick Mason dropped a sure-fire touchdown pass late in the game, and the Steelers beat the Ravens in a tight late-season contest, 23-20. The Steelers were the defending champions, but they suffered a five-game losing streak that included a loss in Baltimore with Dennis Dixon as their starting quarterback.
In the meantime, a season removed from their AFC Championship Game loss at Heinz Field, Baltimore had it’s own issue: they were streaky in 2009. Yet, they were in prime position to secure a playoff spot. Despite the affectionately dubbed “rat-birds” dominating the game statistically, the Steelers held strong and upset the Ravens with a late Jeff Reed field goal.
In a season where the Ravens made the playoffs and the Steelers narrowly missed, both teams set aside their year-long ineptitudes to settle a score. The Steelers fought for pride and the Ravens fought for revenge. Both teams attained their end to some degree: the Ravens learned they could play against a good team on the road with a great deal of mettle. They defeated the Patriots in Foxboro in the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Steelers proved despite their setbacks, the heart of a champion still beat loudly. Just a week earlier, the Steelers had snapped the aforementioned losing streak in an exhilarating 37-36 victory over Green Bay, with Big Ben throwing for 503 yards. The Steelers would return to the Super Bowl and lose to those Packers in 2010.
18. Ravens' "Special" Teams Allow Pittsburgh Comeback (In Pittsburgh, 2002)
The Steelers rallied from a late 31-20 deficit in the season finale before heading into the playoffs. Pittsburgh scored a late touchdown. With enough time remaining on the clock to get the ball back, and with nothing to lose with regards to their season, the Steelers kicked deep.
Baltimore fumbled the late fourth quarter kickoff, setting up the winning Steelers touchdown. The journeyman quarterback, Tommy Maddox (in his famed comeback season), hit Antwaan Randle El in the endzone from five yards out to sweep the season series. While the comeback was fantastic, Baltimore’s fate in 2002 had been sealed well before the finale. They would not return to the playoffs for a third straight season. Conversely, the Steelers had clinched the AFC North and were guaranteed an entry in the NFL playoffs. Still though, with nothing on the line in terms of post-season implications, it was a great nod to the Steelers’ perseverance. When it comes to this rivalry, there are no bench-warming days, which the teams would prove again in 2003.
#17. The Most Important Point That Nobody Knew About (In Pittsburgh, 2005)
A nailbiter on Monday Night Football saw the Steelers dominate most of the game. The Steelers led the entire game until a late Baltimore field goal gave them a 19-17 edge.
Steelers' fans at Heinz Field were stunned. A botched punt attempt allowed Baltimore, two touchdown underdogs, to take the lead with a short field late in the game. Coupled with Pittsburgh's ten game home winning steak on Monday Night Football now being in jeopardy, a huge upset was on the horizon.
Is anything truly an upset in Steelers-Ravens? In this rivalry, paper statistics work better as confetti than evidence.
With Big Ben injured, the Steelers drove down the field on the game’s final possession. At the time, the Steelers were on cruise control, winning games en route to the top record in the AFC North. Having no knowledge of an upcoming 3-game losing streak, the magnitude of that final field goal drive was certainly lost at the time.
A last minute, game-winning drive is always huge. But, just how huge? Most fans were happy we squeaked it out, 20-19, but this is the prime example of an NFL truism: they all count. Each game as much as the next. A loss in this game would have cost the Steelers a playoff spot and thus a Super Bowl championship, all other factors consistent.
#16. High Five (In Pittsburgh, 2007)
Ben Roethlisberger set a Steelers record with five first half touchdown passes, a setback that sent the Ravens into a downward spiral that would plague their 2007 campaign. It was in the rain and mud, down and dirty…..well, the Ravens got dirty.
The Steelers exacted brutal vengeance for the Ravens' dominating performances against them in 2006, mentioned earlier. The Steelers celebrated their 75th anniversary, bringing back the 70's (and many other) greats (see, they had this team in the 70’s prior to the Ravens that was fairly good…) and treating them to a showcase of both pizzazz and physicality.
With style and salon (and in a downpour!), Ben's five touchdown tosses were all the more impressive considering his competition. Brian Billick made his final entrance as head coach of the Ravens at Heinz Field, and left just as he had so many times before it: Cold. And defeated. The Steelers won 38-7.
So, how can a game in which one team had as many points as the other team had yards at halftime be ahead of a one-point nailbiter on the list?
This is a classic example of historic performance out-weighing overall game quality. Only once before had a quarterback thrown five touchdown passes in the first half.
#15. So, That's Why They Call It a Foot Ball! (In Baltimore, 2005)
Following the Steelers last second victory earlier in the year on Monday Night Football (Ben was injured in that game), the Ravens hosted the Steelers in Baltimore. With Roethlisberger on the sideline and Tommy Maddox at the helm, the Steelers fought to the bitter end, but early in overtime, a seemingly clear first down turned into disaster.
A pass to Hines Ward sprung off of his foot while he was falling backwards, landing into the teeth of the Baltimore defense. While it wasn’t Tommy-gun’s fault that the pass was punted into the air, it continued a string of starts for the quarterback where turnovers were the catalyst for losses in otherwise winnable games. In his only other start of that season, Maddox's overtime interception against Jacksonville resulted in a touchdown, and the Steelers lost, 23-17.
In Baltimore, the overtime result would be 16-13 in favor of the "hometowners."
Unlike 2001, it wasn’t Kris Brown that kicked the game away this time; it was fate. And it happened to be off of the foot of Mr. Reliable, Hines Ward! The interception set up Baltimore near mid-field, and they capitalized with an overtime victory that sent the Steelers into a three-game skid that nearly cost them their Super Bowl season.
#14. Missle Launched (In Pittsburgh, 1999)
Two words: THE MISSILE.
From 1998-2000, the Steelers had a notorious habit. They would start 5-3, and then utterly implode in the most colossal ways possible.
In 1998, the stakes in the ground were the Thanksgiving Day debacle in Detroit (did he say heads?) and Kordell's tears game in Tampa Bay (hence, the Kordell doll was introduced...pull it's string, and it cries! Remember?)
In 1999, it was two-fold. A loss to lowly Cleveland 16-15 begat an encore performance from the previous season. The Missile finished the rest en route to a 31-24 Baltimore win at Three Rivers Stadium. Qadry Ismail's three long touchdowns on consecutive drives propelled the normally flightless Ravens offense.
#13. Super-Ravens Lose for the Last Time
The Steelers handed the Ravens their final loss of the 2000 season, a 9-6 nailbiter in which the Steelers scored a safety and touchdown en route to victory.
This game occurred during the infamous Baltimore Super Bowl season "drought." During a "vaunted" stretch of five games, the Ravens didn't have a single offensive touchdown. By this time, Trent Dilfer was at the helm, and this would prove to be the last game of the Raven's 2000 season in which Dilfer would look like...well, Trent Dilfer.
As the offense slowly gelled following this encounter of hard-nosed defenses, the Ravens formed into one of the most dominating Super Bowl units of all time, destroying the Giants 34-7 in a game that wasn't even that close.
I'm not sure what was proven more in this contest: that the Steelers were finally turning a corner from their mediocrity of the late 90's or that Baltimore's defense in 2000 was simply that good, having to endure twenty quarters of such offensive anemia en route to a championship.
In two games against the Ravens in 2009, those 9 points were the entirety of the Steelers' scoring, averaging a measly 4.5 points per game, yet splitting the season series.
#12) Enter: Dennis Dixon. (In Baltimore, 2009)
The Steelers season was on the brink with their record at 6-5, especially considering that they were the defending champions. Ben Roethlisberger was injured, the locker room seemed to be divided regarding his injured status, and backup Charlie Batch had been injured a week earlier in a loss to a lousy Kansas City squad.
Enter: Dennis Dixon. And you know what?
The third stringer almost pulled it off!
Dixon, a first-year quarterback, was given his first assignment in a key divisional game against the vaunted Ravens defense with the Steelers season on the brink in front of a national television audience. And the setting? Baltimore!
He delivered with an aplomb that few could have legitimately anticipated. He began with an early touchdown bomb. After delivering a long touchdown run to put the Steelers ahead in the fourth quarter (a bootleg to the right), "double-D" was in position for a momentous win.
The Ravens answered with a long drive, converting a fourth down to Ray Rice and subsequently tying the game at 17. Ultimately, overtime proved Dixon's undoing. His lone mistake was an interception, and his heroics were put on hold for another day. Although the Steelers fought valiantly, the rookie quarterback would begin his career 0-1, losing 20-17.
#11) Jeers to Cheers: Steelers Rally on Monday Night (In Pittsburgh, 2008)
Another Steelers-Ravens game at Heinz Field on a Monday Night, which seemed to be a fixture for a few seasons in the late "aught" years. These games were classics, and this was perhaps the best of a trio of Monday showdowns.
In this game, the Steelers offense, fresh off of a terrible performance in Philadelphia a week prior, came out sputtering. They trailed 13-3 at halftime. They were boo'ed off of their home field. Intermission coupled with emotional tension, as in the locker room, Ben Reothlisberger is said to have given the team an impassioned speech, using their embarassment as a rallying cry and thanking the defense for saving games for the team.
The team, particularly the offense, looked like a brand new squad in the second half. It was clear that the Steelers had a sweet new swagger that had infiltrated its way back into the offensive line-up.
Santonio Holmes sprung free after catching a bullet pass over the middle (that happened to be well-covered) scoring a touchdown to cut the lead to 13-10. Seconds later, defensive player of the year James Harrison stripped rookie Joe Flacco of the ball, and Lamar Woodley recovered and ran into the endzone to give the Steelers the lead. They would hold the lead until late in the 4th quarter, where the Ravens would rally to tie the game at 20.
The Steelers ultimately won in overtime. This spurred conversations in Baltimore about the fairness of their team having to play consecutive prime time games in the Pittsburgh market. (This became known in Pittsburgh as the "Pennsylvania Primetime Poutfest.")
The next season, the Ravens would host the Steelers in primetime. Productive pouting, if nothing else...
#10. Four Missed Field Goals. (In Pittsburgh, 2001)
It was the Steelers first loss at Heinz Field, much as they handed the Ravens their first loss at their new stadium in 1998. Ultimately, they also handed the Ravens their first win at Heinz Field, 13-10.
Kris Brown missed four very makeable field goals (even for Heinz Field) in a game that the Steelers statistically dominated in every facet. From a Pittsburgh perspective, the game was a physical whooping that went wrong, or actually...wide right, wide right, wide right....and, for good measure, wide right one last time. The Steelers doubled the Ravens in total yardage and led by gaping margins in every major statistical category.
Sans kicking, of course!
In my opinion, this game is the one that tilled the soil, allowing seeds to be planted (game 2, 2001) and fully grow (2002 Divisional Playoffs) in having the rivalry to become the hated, passionate match-up that it is today.
Both teams felt they were better then the other. Following this game, questions loomed. Would it be the defending champion Ravens or the up-and-coming Steelers that would take control of the division and prove themselves the better team heading into the newly formed AFC North in 2002? Did the Steelers dominate the game, or did the Ravens just do what they do: manage the game and find a way to win?
This game incited the debate and truly intensified the pride on both sides to demonstrate the prowess in the years to come.
#9. The Psychology of a Rivalry (In Baltimore, 2003)
After being dominated by the Steelers in 2001 in their championship defense, the Ravens fell apart in 2002, and saw the Steelers win consecutive division titles. In 2003, they reloaded, and after losing five straight games to Pittsburgh, the Ravens had already won the division by the time the teams met in the season finale.
Their coach went as far as to say, "For us to have success in the playoffs, mentally, we have to beat Pittsburgh."
The healthy Ravens, playoff-bound, sought to destroy a mental block and instill confidence in themselves. If that doesn't keynote a rivalry, what does? Brain Billick, opposed to resting his starters, brought a full house against the 'Burgh.
While the logic can be debated, the passion cannot be questioned. Some people felt this game was a snore-fest. I call it a clean game with physical play, lots of excitement, and plenty of appeal. Screw the records. This game counted, and both teams had their cleats in the dirt.
The Steelers took note of the Ravens' determination and brought their defensive A-game into Baltimore. Though out of the playoff race, they could end their season on a bright note by souring the Ravens heading into the playoffs. Taking the night off would not be an option.
The game probably should have been a defensive throwdown won by Baltimore in regulation, 10-3. (And, to throw some salt onto black and gold wounds- the winning quarterback was Anthony Wright). The scrappy Steelers weren't going away that easily, executing a fake punt pass for a long touchdown that kept the game squared through regulation, 10-all.
One of the reasons I consider this an upper-echelon game in the history of the rivalry is simple: you will be hard-pressed to find a better pure sixty-minute game anywhere else in the library. This game was crisp.
As the game went into overtime, the Ravens completed their mission and fulfilled their vow to defeat the Steelers, 13-10. While the logistical implication weren't as huge as in other games, true fans of these teams understand that the implications WERE huge as far as both teams were concerned.
Additionally, Jamal Lewis entered the game with an opportunity to break the single season rushing record. While he did eclipse 2,000 yards early in the game, he did not break the record, as the Steelers defense clamped down in the second half.
#8. Plexiglass Power (In Pittsburgh, 2002)
In 2001, the defending champion Ravens surrendered the last-ever AFC Central Division crown to the Steelers. While historians would mark this as a fitting achievement (the Steelers won the division for most of the previous three decades), Baltimore believed they were better than their division counterparts.
During the season, the Steelers lost for the first time at Heinz Field to their bitter rivals, dominating gameplay but missing four field goals. The Steelers' faithful enjoyed an encore performance in Baltimore (later on the list), but the result played out differently. The season series was tied at 1-1, and the grudge match was going to happen in the Divisional Playoffs.
The intensity leading up to the game was immense. When you look for a rivalry's origin, normally you can pinpoint it to a singular game or event or, at worst, era. Forgetting that the Browns of yesteryear are the Ravens of today, Baltimore was dreadful in the late 90's, causing the seemingly obvious "old Cleveland" factor to never truly find its velocity. Most experts trace the rivalry's origins to the 2001 regular season. I agree that this was the fertilizer. The plant budded in the second game, and a thorny rivalry was fully birthed in the playoffs. In simplest terms: rivalry ON.
To add to the hype of the teams' first ever playoff games versus each other, rumors circulated that a week earlier, Baltimore conducted a "ceremonial pre-game shower" in Miami to "mark their territory." Of course, hearing this, the rumor mill began circulating, turning Heinz Field into a potential Ravens Receptacle. To add to the ill-will, Shannon Sharpe began referring to Plaxico Burress as "plexiglass" Burress. The receiver's response? That plexiglass bends, but doesn't break. Perhaps if I'd won three straight Super Bowls (Sharpe won twice with Denver, then with Baltimore) and 12 straight playoff games, I'd feel cocky, too!
Tensions escalated, as the Ravens championship mettle and the Steelers statistical dominance of the two regular season games gave both teams a swagger they refused to yield. Eventually, as all word wars that are waged do, the battle took to the field, and real football was played. Or, should I say, real football was delivered by the Steelers and to the Ravens.
On his first throw (and the Ravens' first offensive play), Elvis Grbac (who was chosen to replace champion Trent Dilfer at quarterback in the off-season by Brian Billick) was hit, threw a duck, and was intercepted. A tone was set.
The Steelers jumped out to a 20-0 lead. Turnovers accumulated on the purple side of the ball, and the black and gold continued to capitalize. The Ravens eventually fought back, and a Jermaine Lewis punt return for a touchdown (special teams was the Steelers' bane in the early decade) cut the score to 20-10. That is when Plaxico Burress proved his "bend but not break" credentials, hauling in a late touchdown to draw the game to its final score of 27-10.
After the game, Tony Siragusa pronounced that the Steelers would win the Super Bowl. However, those great special teams that were mentioned birthed a dynasty in New England instead.
#7. Flacco or Fluke-O? (In Baltimore, 2010)
As the Ravens prepared to host the Steelers late in the 2010 season, with both teams sharing identical records, all of the talk was about how Baltimore was better prepared than ever to take down their nemesis from the confluence. After all, Joe Flacco was gaining experience, Anquan Boldin provided a physical threat at receiver, at T.J. Houshmandzadeh had always been a thorn in the side of the Steelers. In the eyes of the public, Sunday Night Football was going to showcase a transition in power in the AFC North.
With a near encore performance of 2008 (later in the list), the Steelers fans had to be drawing on an obvious parallel to their Super Bowl season of that same year and a wonderful habit Pittsburgh has had since 2001: Clinching the division in Baltimore. While this game would not provide a mathematical clinch as in 2001 and 2008, it would be the deciding factor for supremacy in the 2010 AFC North.
Trailing late in the game 10-6, the Steelers defense blitzed Troy Polamalu. Joe Flacco noticed the play design and claims he anticipated Troy coming. Apparently, he felt he had time to stand and deliver a perfect throw instead of adjusting to a slide protection and taking the safe route in a decidedly safe 10-6 (I stress...10-6!) game.
One tomahawk chop changed the entire playoff seedings.
The quarterback was stripped of the football near midfield, and the Steelers returned it inside the Baltimore 10-yard line to establish a first and goal. It took three downs, but ultimately, Isaac Redman bulled in on a physical catch and run to essentially win the game. The sense of de'ja' vu in Baltimore had to be overwhelming.
While low-scoring, this game had plenty of exciting plays. More importantly, it left the indelible images of a rivalry that words can't capture. Ben broke his nose (seen graphically during the telecast), and while blood gushed from his nostrils, it got on his white jersey and continued to drip throughout the evening. Heath Miller took a neck-breaking helmet-to-helmet tackle on an illegal hit that drew no flag that sent Steelers fans into a frenzy. It was clearly one of the most physical games the rivalry has offered.
#6. Shaw Sprints Steelers to AFC North Title (In Baltimore, 2001)
Sure, the rivalry traces back to the 2002 playoffs. But, this is the game that made all of it possible. This was the game that got the pendulum of power into motion.
The Steelers pronounced themselves the better team in 2001, but the Ravens were the defending champions. If the Steelers won late in the year in Baltimore, it would clinch the division.
Both teams played an emotionally charged game on Sunday Night Football. The Ravens jumped out to a 7-3 lead. But, just before halftime, Plaxico Burress hauled in a touchdown from Kordell Stewart to give the Steelers a lead they would not relinquish, despite a valiant Baltimore effort in the 4th quarter.
The modern day Purple People Eaters trailed 13-7 midway through the 4th quarter, but Pittsburgh was backed up at their own 10-yard line. This was when Kordell Stewart made perhaps the finest throw of his career. He hit Bobby Shaw in perfect stride on an absolute laser-precise throw. In a perfect, highlight reel stride, he took the ball 90 yards to give the Steelers a 19-7 lead. As replays of Baltimore defenders were being shown, you could see the air sucked right out of them, as cloudy mouths of breath dispersed into the atmosphere as the result of exasperation.
The Ravens did not go away, answering to make it 19-14, but Pittsburgh put together a final, stake-driving offensive series to reclaim a 26-14 lead. The Steelers won the division, serving notice to the defending champions that a new "old" bad boy was back on the AFC block.
The Ravens scored a late touchdown, and the final score was 26-21.
#5. Birds of a Feather Steal Victories Together (In Pittsburgh, 2010)
Whie the Steelers ultimately won the division, the Ravens stunned Heinz Field in an early-season contest.
The surprising Steelers were 3-0 (despite Ben Roethlisberger's misconduct suspension), and the general public felt strongly that the Ravens were in prime position with key offseason acquisitions to overtake Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Baltimore entered the game 2-1, but would leave with a share of first place in an emotionally topsy-turvy fourth quarter. The Ravens seemingly both lost and won in a separation of minutes.
Due to off-season activities that resulted in league disciplinary action, Ben Roethlisberger watched from afar as Charlie Batch lead the Steelers on a 4th quarter touchdown drive to give his team a 14-10 lead. The Ravens followed in classic fashion, methodically driving into Steelers' territory. After first-and-goal, the Steelers stopped the Ravens on all four downs from scoring, all inside of three minutes on the game clock. Most dramatically, a fourth down lob pass to the corner of the endzone intended for Anquan Boldin was perfectly defended (and overthrown), and the awed Pittsburgh crowd transitioned to elation. Without their starting quarterback, fans felt the Steelers took an approach that was far too conservative, given Batch's experience. The Steelers ran on three straight downs, punting the ball to Baltimore near midfield with just over a minute remaining.
Seconds ticked off of the clock. With under 0:40 to play, T.J. Houshmenzadeh hauled in a long TD pass from Joe Flacco, tight roping the back of the end zone. Steelers fans exited the stadium in complete shock. The highs and lows of NFL football were perfectly illustrated on a crisp Pittsburgh afternoon, the pendulum of emotion having swung violently in the game's final minutes.
#4. Breaking the Plane and Breaking Hearts (In Baltimore, 2008)
Baltimore loves allowing Pittsburgh to win AFC North division championships in Baltimore. It never comes in, but with the division or season on the line, the Steelers have shown a remarkable penchant for beating their most physical rivals. This one probably hurt the worst for Ravens' fans.
The game was intense, another showdown where the Ravens had a late lead. Trailing 9-6 in a game that was an exciting defensive struggle with great plays, the Steelers were backed up at their 8-yard line for a shot at one last drive to try to tie the game. It is assured that everyone in Western PA was dreaming about a game-tying field goal, considering the type of game they had been viewing for the prior two hours and thirty minutes. Truly, in these matchups, points are at a premium. Quote the Raven, "Never Score."
By the way, the Steelers drove 92 yards to score on a last minute controversial touchdown. Ben Roethlisberger ran to his left, and then turned back to his right, throwing a strike to Santonio Holmes who was coming back to the ball. The debate is about the ball's location relative to the goal line at the time he demonstrated full possession. It was ruled that the ball broke the plane, and the Steelers won the game 13-9. It was a fractional judgment at best, though I do think the call was correct. Hairline correct.
To best describe it, this game was a low-scoring roller coaster ride. But, even more aptly, Ray Lewis described the outcome. To paraphrase: "It wasn't the call that cost us the game. It was the 92-yard drive." Class.
Just a standard, drag-em-down, kicking-and-screaming, banshee-war that was well-played and included a dose of everything you'd expect in the rivalry.
#3. 3rd and 19. (In Pittsburgh, 2011)
Don't let the score of 31-24 fool you from this divisional playoff game from January 2011. Defense dictated the game. More accurately, defense dictated for all but one play.
The Ravens jumped out to an early 21-7 lead due to Steelers miscues and sharp play by quarterback Joe Flacco. Baltimore showed an aplomb that was customarily shown by Pittsburgh in season-deciding games between the two squads. The Steelers didn't play to the whistle on a Roethlisberger fumble, and the Ravens capitalized with an odd touchdown, embarrassing the crowd of 65,000 fans, whose towels suddenly stopped waving. After a fumble and a touchdown to Todd Heap, Baltimore's two touchdown lead at halftime had to seem insurmountable to those familiar with the rivalry's dynamics. The modern-age "Purple People Eaters" were exorcising demons.
Then, it happened. Years after he used it to clean his shoes while with the Bengals, the Terrible Towel remembered that T.J. Houshmanzadeh played for Baltimore. It exercised it's might, and while that isn't the reality of what occurred, the turn of events seemed mystical.
Ray Rice fumbled on a routine catch, a dump pass over the middle. Following the fumble and a touchdown pass to Heath Miller, towels waved in the air again. Joe Flacco threw an inexplicable interception (that was eerily similar to the spot on the field Elvis Grbac threw an interception in the Ravens' first playoff game at Heinz Field). This was on second down, making matters even more unjustifiable.
The Steelers tied the game at 21. Next, the Ravens lost the ball on a center-quarterback exchange.
After a meltdown of epic proportions, Pittsburgh lead in the 4th quarter 24-21. Baltimore drove late, and despite a Boldin drop of a would-be touchdown, they tied the score at 24-all. Pittsburgh received the ball with an opportunity to win the game late. It seemed that the game would go to overtime as the Steelers drive stalled near mid-field, and then went backwards. Next, it happened.
It is the phrase that Steelers fans will throw in Ravens fans faces for the next 20 years.
"3rd and 19."
Instead of dropping coverage and keeping receivers in front of them, the Baltimore defensive backs allowed Antonio Brown to get behind them. Ben Roethlisberger threw a beautiful deep lob that was hauled in against the receiver's helmet, setting up a late score. The Steelers won 31-24.
In a final act of self-destruction, Houshmanzadeh himself dropped the game's final pass on third and long, ending Baltmore's season.
#2. Largest Comeback in Steelers History (In Baltimore, 1997)
Before any of his breakdowns occurred, Kordell Stewart ("Slash") was considered a promising quarterback in the Steel City. He was given the starting Q.B. job in 1997. Things didn't start off well in the early weeks of that year, and Stewart was translating the acronym Q.B. into the phrase "Quickly Benched" barring an immediate improvement in his play.
The season was progressing toward turmoil. With a 1-2 record, the Steelers travelled to Baltimore. They fell behind quickly, and were losing 21-0 early in the second quarter following a remarkable catch by former Pittsburgh tight end Eric Green.
Then, something clicked. The Steelers special teams returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the second half, and Kordell Stewart finally realized the talent that so many seemed to be speculating about. Slowly, but surely, the Steelers offense began to click for this, the first time, in week 4.
Before too long, the Steelers suddenly had a 28-24 lead. Then, it was 35-24. The game was full of big plays, preceding the identity of the rivalry as its known today. In their entire franchise history, the Steelers had never overcome a 21 point deficit.
Just as it began to seem likely that Pittsburgh was going to make history, the Ravens scored and connected on a 2-point conversion to make the score 35-32, Steelers. The Pittsburgh offense had begun to cool off in the fourth quarter, and in order to prevent the Ravens from a comeback of their own, the Steelers would need to run out the clock late in the 4th quarter.
That is when Kordell made the play that ensured he would spend a lot more time in Pittsburgh infamy. He took off through the tired Ravens' defensive line for an 80-yard touchdown scamper, securing a 42-34 Steelers victory.
This game was critical as it was the impetus that led the Steelers to an 11-5 campaign in 1997 and Bill Cowher to a record-tying 6th consecutive winning season to begin his career.
The momentum of the game carried Pittsburgh to the AFC Championship Game that year, where they would lose to eventual world champion Denver. Without the rally, its possible the Steelers season would have faltered, as they were well on their way to a 7-9 finish. Not all that glitters is gold, however, Kordell became entrenched as Pittsburgh's starter, and his maturation process never completed itself. The Steelers would have losing records in each of the following two seasons.
While other games are probably given more focus on a national level, fans of the rivalry will remember this game's importance. It served as the fulcrum point that turned around the 1997 season for a franchise that wasn't used to losing. The Steelers largest ever comeback propelled them to the playoffs once again.
#1. AFC Championship Game: Bloodbath (In Pittsburgh, 2009)
The implication of a trip to the Super Bowl certainly influenced my decision to select this as the greatest game in the history of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.
What layman fans viewing the AFC Championship Game received in 2009 was what the Steelers and Ravens prepared for every season: a bloodbath. In a game that lived up to all of its billing, Willis McGahee can probably best testify to the physical magnitude. He left on a stretcher late in the 4th quarter. While I am not advocating for or desire such an outcome, I need to make very clear that this game just happened to be for the AFC Championship. At its core, its identity is that of the most physical Ravens-Steelers game yet played to-date here in 2011. Both teams brought it. Hard.
To read my description of the rivalry is to read about this very game. The Steelers jumped out to an early 13-0 lead on a remarkable catch-and-run from Ben Roethlisberger to 2009 playoffs MVP Santonio Holmes, who scored a touchdown in all three of Pittsburgh's game en route to their championship. After the Steelers' early momentum, the game slowed down into the typical, hard-hitting, defensively sound grudge-match that identifies the rivalry. Defense dictated the pace, and as Baltimore hung in there, Pittsburgh found itself unable to put its pesky rivals away. Mid-way through the second half, the Ravens scored the second of two rushing touchdowns, narrowing the Steelers lead to 16-14.
The Ravens defense continued to hold strong, and they got the ball back for their offense with plenty of time remaining in the fourth quarter. It seemed as through the Ravens were playing the perfect road playoff game: hang in there, and take it at the end. First year coach John Harbaugh saw rookie quarterback Joe Flacco take command of the huddle, and notions of a Cinderella storyline had to be on their minds. The Steelers had beaten them twice in 2008, and this would be the perfect vengeance. Fans at Heinz Field had lumps in their throats, images of four home AFC Title losses in just over a decade swirling through their heads.
In the end, Troy Polamalu described it best on "America's Game." He described each game a story in itself, citing that a player must decide how he wants the story to play out for himself.
Troy intercepted Joe Flacco for the game-clinching interception. He ended the fairytale, propelled his team to the Super Bowl, and sent Heinz Field into a frenzy.
Likewise, he sealed a Pittsburgh victory in the greatest, most hard-hitting and high stakes Steelers-Ravens game of all time.