BALTIMORE — Wasn’t this exactly how the script read?
After their 17-14 Week 4 win over a Ben Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh Steelers team at Heinz Field, weren’t the Baltimore Ravens (8-3) destined for a rematch in Week 13 with the AFC North title likely on the line?
There was little drama in setting up the showdown Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium, as the Ravens dispatched the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-4) with relative ease. The 17-10 final score says the game was not of the “blowout” variety, but the Bucs were hardly in it at all over the course of sixty minutes.
There was significantly more drama for the Steelers, as they needed a touchdown drop from Bills WR Stevie Johnson and a tremendous OT performance from RB Rashard Mendenhall to lock up a 19-16 overtime win in Buffalo and stay on pace with the Ravens atop the division.
But everything fell into place, and the Ravens and Steelers (also 8-3) now get to meet up on Sunday Night Football in Charm City with the division title still well in the balance.
Minutes after the Ravens had polished off the Bucs, the anticipation for the Week 13 showdown was already building.
“We’re looking forward to it” said Head Coach John Harbaugh. “We respect them. (It’s) going to be a rough, tough, physical game.”
Harbaugh claimed he wasn’t aware of what the Steelers had done Sunday until after their own game was over, but it became apparent that he (and other members of the team) had seen the result on the big screen at M&T Bank Stadium and knew what was ahead of them.
“Once we saw (Shaun Suisham’s game winner for Pittsburgh), we knew we had to take care of our business” said LB Ray Lewis.
Lewis was amongst a number of players who wouldn’t shy away from the significance of next Sunday’s showdown.
“It’s a beautiful thing to sit here right and be playing for the division next week at home. The season just (doesn’t get any) better than that.”
Ravens-Steelers matchups usually tend to carry a little more significance than average NFL contests, but this one certainly shapes up to mean a little bit more.
“We know what’s in front of us” said TE Todd Heap. “When the Ravens play the Steelers in December, it usually has a lot of meeting and this game coming up definitely does. It will be a statement game for us.”
That couldn’t be a more accurate statement.
Ravens fans and analysts who cover the Ravens have been uniform in how puzzled they’ve been by the 2010 team. It’s easy to tell that the Ravens are a GOOD team, but not so easy to justify just how good they are.
A Ravens staffer approached me after Sunday’s win and said “what do you think?”
My only response was “I’m not sure.”
It’s been a common theme throughout Charm City, as callers to talk shows, message board participants and those who only talk around water coolers seem to agree only that the Ravens are good, but appear to be uncertain of just how good they are.
One week the response will be “I don’t think (QB Joe) Flacco is good enough.” Another week it will be “the defense isn’t good enough.”
As Sunday’s win was winding down, participants in WNST.net’s “Purple Haze” live chat were split on their emotions. There were statements about “not enough killer instinct” and “they were lucky at the end.”
Yet the same folks who fault the team’s performance are still quick to point out that they know the team is good.
They ARE good. In fact, they’re VERY good.
Good enough to be atop the division as the calendar turns to December. Good enough to be just a game behind the teams with the best record in the NFL.
And in one week, we’ll know everything we need to know about just how good the Ravens are.
With a win over the Steelers, the Ravens will unquestionably be the best team in the AFC North. A loss to the Steelers would leave the Ravens vying to simply fit into the AFC playoff puzzle.
It’s a big game.
It won’t be the final determining factor in the division. If the Ravens win, they’ll still have to protect a one game advantage over the last four weeks of the season-but they’ll be able to keep the division tiebreaker in their pocket. If the Steelers win, they’ll have to protect a one game advantage over the last four weeks of the season with tiebreaking scenarios very much in the balance.
The most likely scenario is that the team that wins Sunday will go on to win the division-with a home playoff game and a first round bye in the playoffs very likely to come with it.
The question will undoubtedly come up this week.
“Just how good are the Ravens, really?”
And for now, we have an answer.
“We’ll see next week.”
Hear from Harbaugh, Flacco, Heap, Lewis, LB Terrell Suggs, WR Derrick Mason and S Dawan Landry following the Ravens’ win NOW in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault here at WNST.net!