There’s plenty of blame to go around in the aftermath of the Ravens loss on Sunday at the hands of the Steelers, and I’m quite certain we’ll be assessing that blame and going over the shortcomings of the team for the majority of this week on the airwaves and blogosphere at WNST.net. In the grander scheme of things however, this should have been an easy outcome to predict. It can be simplified as easy as the following; the Ravens had little to play for on Sunday and the Steelers had everything to play for.
Knowing what we know about both of those teams, we should have known enough. Ravens and Steelers has been universally recognized as football’s best current rivalry and for some the best rivalry in sports period. That legacy didn’t begin with Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger; they just made it more interesting. For the last 12 years at least, through Kyle Boller and Anthony Wright and Jeff Blake and Troy Smith, through Tommy Maddox and Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich, the Ravens vs. the Steelers has been, more often than not, a slugfest decided by a minimal number of points in the latest stages of the game. There was no reason to guess that this one would be any different.
A loss would have dropped the Steelers to 6-6 and put a serious damper on their playoff hopes. It wasn’t exactly do or die for Pittsburgh, but it’s about as close as it gets in week 13 of the NFL season. For the Ravens however, a win didn’t mean much. A win over the Steelers, coupled with a Bengals loss at San Diego would have cemented the AFC North for the Ravens, but for all intents and purposes the Ravens are the AFC North champions. Whether it became official in week 13 or has to wait until week 16 or 17, it’s near impossible to imagine the Ravens not winning the division.
A win on Sunday would have had the Ravens playing the Broncos in Week 15 with the second seed in the AFC and a first round bye in the balance. A loss on Sunday has still left the Ravens looking ahead to a week 15 showdown with the Broncos with the second seed in the AFC and a first round bye in the balance. All Sunday’s loss vs. the Steelers did for the Ravens was to delay their inevitable clinching of their own division, and to serve internal notice that there’s still work to be done.
The Steelers played like a team that needed desperately to win on Sunday; that’s because they were a team desperate to win on Sunday. Pittsburgh, coming off of two consecutive losses (in their own division no less) is left with no choice but to embrace the remainder of the season with a playoff caliber of urgency. The Ravens on the other hand had nothing really to gain from a win on Sunday, and they also played just that way. Assuming that the Texans can’t be caught, as I think most do, the Ravens could afford to lose one of their final 5 games and still hold onto their second spot in the AFC as long as that loss didn’t come against Denver. Now they’ve lost it and restored a sense of urgency (hopefully) to the remainder of the season.