Ravens Hope For Pivotal Division WinPosted on October 30, 2007
By Joe Platania, PressBox Staff
By this point, you've heard all the usual cliches.
"It's a marathon, not a sprint."
"You have to take them one game at a time."
"There's lots of football left to be played."
Actually, there isn't.
The Ravens (4-3) end the first half of what has been nothing less than a disappointing season thus far when they travel to Pittsburgh to face the AFC North Division-leading Steelers (5-2) on ESPN's "Monday Night Football" showcase.
The Steelers -- winners of 20 of 25 Monday-night home games, not having lost one since 1991 -- are pulling out all the stops for this event.
The team is dedicating a commemorative plaque on the site of the old Three Rivers Stadium. Many Pittsburgh legends are coming back to town Sunday for a game day-eve 75th anniversary team bash. For the second time this year, the Steelers will wear their throwback jerseys for a home game.
Bart Scott takes out Ben Roethlisberger for one of the Ravens' many sacks of Big Ben last season.
With all that going on, what does Pittsburgh respect more? The Monday night spotlight or the fact the Ravens have been tough on them, winning the last three meetings and sweeping them in 2006 for the first time?
In fact, the last time the Steelers hosted a Monday night game (in 2005), an injury-riddled Ravens team played as valiantly as it ever has, falling to a late Jeff Reed field goal, 20-19.
What will it take for the Ravens to put forth that same extra effort?
For one thing, Baltimore can always fall back on the fact that it has won five straight post-bye games and is 7-4 in contests that follow a week off.
For another, the North is a tightly bunched pack this year with the Steelers holding a one-game edge over the Ravens and resurgent Cleveland Browns and a three-game lead over Cincinnati.
On top of that, even after Monday night's game is over, the Ravens can be secure in the knowledge they have three home games left against each of their division rivals.
In their short team history, the Ravens have either witnessed or been part of pivotal momentum swings that have turned division races around.
The Jacksonville Jaguars had predictably stumbled in their '95 expansion season, finishing at 4-12. The following year, they were mired at 3-6 and tied for last place with the Ravens and Cincinnati. The Houston Oilers, at 5-4, were a full two games behind the Steelers, who were coming off an AFC championship the previous season.
Running back Willis McGahee and the Ravens will try to swing the momentum within the AFC North their way in the second half of the season.
Then the Jaguars caught fire, winning six of their last seven, closing within one game of the Steelers and edging Houston and Cincinnati (both 8-8) for a wild card playoff berth. The fun didn't stop there for the Jags, as they waltzed into Denver and embarrassed the top-seeded Broncos before reaching the AFC title game and losing at New England.
Coming off a Super Bowl title, the Ravens rode their tough defense, the arm of a new quarterback (Elvis Grbac) and the legs of an old running back (Terry Allen) to a 6-3 record after nine games.
The problem was, Pittsburgh already had its bye at that point and was 6-2, thanks to Kordell Stewart, Jerome Bettis, Hines Ward and a defense that would go on to rack up 55 quarterback sacks.
The Steelers then ran off six straight victories -- including a 26-21 win on a much-anticipated Sunday night in Baltimore -- to cap a seven-game winning streak, while the Ravens couldn't keep pace with losses to Cleveland and Tampa Bay, as well as the aforementioned loss to the Steelers. As a result, once the Ravens dispatched a listless Miami team in the wild-card round, they had to travel to Heinz Field for the Divisional playoff game and lost, 27-10.
With two weeks left in the season, the out-of-nowhere Cincinnati Bengals were leading the North with an 11-3 record and a four-game winning streak that showed no signs of letting up.
Pittsburgh was two games back at 9-5 but had easier opposition remaining. The Steelers made that prediction stand up with blowout wins over Cleveland and Detroit.
The Bengals had to keep pace, with their next-to-last game a home contest against Buffalo. However, the Bills got a late Rian Lindell field goal to take the lead with 58 seconds to go. Terrence McGee's subsequent interception return for a touchdown sank the Bengals, 37-27.
Cincinnati thought it could relax even after getting blown out in Kansas City the following week, but the wild-card Steelers went into Cincinnati and won on their way to taking Super Bowl XL.
After seven games, the Ravens were 5-2 with Cincinnati one game back at 4-3. Pittsburgh and Cleveland were out of this race early.
At that point in the season, the most pivotal AFC North game of the year took place when the Bengals came to Baltimore and left with a 26-20 loss.
The following week really sealed matters.
That was a most incredible Sunday, as the Ravens staged their biggest-ever comeback win by beating Tennessee, 27-26, and the Bengals blew a 28-7 home lead and lost the NFL's best game of the year to San Diego, 49-41.
The carnage left the Bengals trailing by three games with seven left to play and not even a head-to-head revenge win over the Ravens on Nov. 30 could save them.
Issue 2.44: November 1, 2007