|National Football League|
Ravens, Steelers meet with first place on line
BALTIMORE -- The Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens continue their hard-hitting, spirited rivalry Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium with first place in the AFC North at stake.
Both teams are also looking to bounce back from disappointing losses.
The Ravens (2-1) were demolished by the Jacksonville Jaguars 44-7 in London last week. The Steelers (2-1) were stunned 23-17 in overtime by the Bears in Chicago.
Still, neither team expects to have any type of carryover from those games, especially with the history between the two franchises.
Twelve of the past 18 matchups between Baltimore and Pittsburgh were decided by three points or fewer.
"We need to win," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "All these wins count the same, but obviously this is a division game. Division wins are a little more important. You're trying to win a division championship. That's the goal. Last week? We're past it. We're done with it. But don't think that it doesn't stick in your craw."
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is trying to recover from the worst game of his career. He completed eight of 18 pass attempts for a career-worst 28 yards with two interceptions against the Jaguars. Flacco finished with a passer rating of 12.0.
Baltimore enters the game with an offense ranked last in the league in total yards per game.
"I think we're getting ahead of ourselves when we all of a sudden start saying we haven't played well for three weeks," Flacco said. "We played terribly last week. There's no way around that. But the other two weeks, we did what we had to do to win football games. I don't think that's anything that we can hang our head over."
Baltimore's heralded defense was shredded by the Jaguars, who amassed 410 total yards. After amassing 10 takeaways and eight sacks over the first two games, the Ravens were blanked in both categories against the Jaguars. That unit sustained another blow Wednesday when defensive end Brent Urban was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury, making him the 16th Ravens player lost for the season.
The Steelers' defense also struggled against the Bears, who ran for 220 yards. The Ravens will likely rotate three running backs -- Terrance West, Javorius "Buck" Allen and Alex Collins -- but none of them poses as big a threat as Chicago's Jordan Howard.
Pittsburgh is ranked third in the league in total defense and second against the pass.
"We have had a lot of significant confrontations downfield in the history of the series," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They are the Ravens' offense. We know that they are capable of big strikes. They are a balanced group. They do a good job of keeping you off balance.
"It is business as usual for us. All of those things being said, we have to play solid. We have to control the things that we do and work to minimize the things that they do. The focus for us this week is that when you are coming off a negative performance ... It is the Ravens, it is a rivalry weekend, but we need to be focused on things that we need to do to play above the line."
Pittsburgh had just 70 yards on the ground last week, with 61 coming from Le'Veon Bell. Baltimore, however, could be without defensive tackle Brandon Williams, who missed the previous game with a foot injury and did not practice Wednesday.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger acknowledged that the offense needs to do a better job with its execution. Several flaws were exposed in the loss to the Bears.
"If I play better in that game, I feel we win the game," Roethlisberger said Wednesday. "If I play better in the first two weeks, then we're going to score more points and have a productive offense and we don't have to answer questions about why our offense isn't where it is."
Roethlisberger has 31 touchdowns passes and 21 interceptions in 19 career games against Baltimore, going 10-9 over that stretch. The Steelers have lost their past four games at M&T Bank Stadium, and Roethlisberger has thrown three touchdown passes and four interceptions over that span.
Last week, players for both teams had demonstrations of unity during the national anthem. It was also a response to President Donald Trump, who said that NFL players that protested during the national anthem should be fired.
Several Ravens players took a knee, and the Steelers, with the exception of offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, stayed in the locker room during the anthem.
The Ravens players have made a decision as to what they will do Sunday during pregame ceremonies. However, they declined to reveal those plans.
"We've talked about it as a team," tight end Benjamin Watson said. "When that time comes, just know we support each other in everything we do."
The Steelers lead the all-time regular season series 22-20. Pittsburgh snapped a three-game losing streak against the Ravens with a 31-27 victory on Christmas that also clinched the AFC North title last season. However, the Steelers have not won in Baltimore since Dec. 2, 2012.
The Steelers have won three of the teams' four postseason meetings.
Updated September 27, 2017