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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With no time to bask in the aftermath of a 19-3 win over the New York Jets, the Ravens immediately shifted their attention Monday toward a Thanksgiving night meeting against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Thursday night game always brings the challenge of balancing physical recovery from the previous week’s contest with a condensed amount of time to prepare for the next opponent, but the Ravens and Steelers figure to benefit from the great level of familiarity the AFC North rivals have with one another. Having already played in Pittsburgh last month, the Ravens will simply fine-tune what they already know despite the Steelers having won five of their last seven games to rebound from an 0-4 start.
Playing on Thanksgiving for the second time in three years, coach John Harbaugh acknowledged a challenge when playing a less-familiar team on a short week like when the Ravens hosted San Francisco in 2011.
“When you play an opponent that you don’t know, there’s a lot of groundwork that you have to do in terms of establishing their system and how they organize things,” Harbaugh said. “Both teams have a pretty good idea of how the other is organized. We’re pretty far down the road with each other at this point.”
This week’s preparations will involve lighter practices as the Ravens focus on mental reps while preparing for a physical game taking place just 100 hours after completing the win over New York to improve to 5-6 on the season.
The Ravens and Steelers have met in prime time frequently over the years, but this Week 14 meeting will mark the first time the AFC North adversaries have met on a Thursday night. And it will provide the Ravens with an opportunity to top Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in a late-season game with high stakes, something they’ve never been able to do.
“It’s a rivalry game, so there are not a lot of secrets between the two teams,” defensive end Chris Canty said. “They understand the personnel this year. We have a good feel for what they have. That being said, you have to look at the little nuances, the details, the wrinkles over the past four games [and] what they’ve been doing. How they’ve been attacking teams, what they’ve been having success with, what they’ve been struggling with. You have to try to look at the whole picture and put yourself in situations where you’re able to have the most success.”
As is often the case with Thursday games in which the quality of play suffers, both teams will battle the physical fatigue of playing two games in a five-day period while the Ravens hope to avoid a season sweep at the hands of the Steelers, something that last happened in 2008.
In addition to the annual bragging rights and occasional bad blood between Baltimore and Pittsburgh, the teams are both 5-6 and tied with four other teams in the AFC in fighting for the No. 6 seed. A win puts one team in great position to snatch the final playoff spot in the conference with a strong final quarter of the season while the loser will need to rely heavily on help from others with no margin for error over the final four weeks.
“You just have to be into it mentally. It’s a big game,” right tackle Michael Oher said. “A lot of things are riding on it. It is the Steelers — big rivalry game. It’s going to be a physical game, and you’ve just got to get after it.”
Thanksgiving game permanent fixture?
Playing on Thanksgiving night for the second time in the last three seasons, Harbaugh expressed pride in the Ravens and the city of Baltimore being showcased before a national audience on what he called most guys’ favorite holiday.
The coach even suggested the organization would be open to becoming a Thanksgiving fixture in the same way that Detroit and Dallas have over the years.
“If at any point in time the NFL and Roger [Goodell] want to make this a tradition, wouldn’t we all be for that in Baltimore?” Harbaugh said. “I think that would be pretty amazing. We love it and I know our fans do, too.”
With the Ravens not playing at home in the NFL’s season opener back in September — a privilege that has been given to the defending Super Bowl champions in recent years — many viewed a second Thanksgiving home game in three years as a concession made to owner Steve Bisciotti and the Ravens when the schedule was released in late April.
Players and coaches will delay their own holiday celebrations for a day while trying to get back to .500, but it’s clear that many within the organization have embraced playing in the holiday game.
“I love playing on Turkey Day. How could you not love playing on Thanksgiving?” Canty said. “I remember when I was a little kid, we used to round up all the kids in the neighborhood and get a football and just go out and play sandlot ball on Thanksgiving. Then, go in and eat some turkey. It doesn’t leave [you]. You’re just excited about the opportunity to go out there in front of a national audience.”
Monday’s injury report
In lieu of a normal practice just over 24 hours following their respective Week 12 games, the Ravens held a light walk-through Monday evening while the Steelers did not practice, only releasing an estimated injury report.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (knee), Canty (shoulder), linebacker Arthur Brown, and tight end Dennis Pitta (hip) were all present for the walk-through as the Ravens focused primarily on mental preparation while completing the indoor workout. Canty was the only player of those four who was listed on the injury report as a limited participant.
Reserve safety Brynden Trawick (ankle) did not participate after leaving early in Sunday’s game against the Jets and failing to return.
Meanwhile, the Steelers are dealing with a slew of injuries on the defensive side of the ball as starting nose tackle Steve McLendon (ankle) was already ruled out for Thursday’s game and defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and linebacker LaMarr Woodley are both less than 100 percent after missing Sunday’s game in Cleveland.
Pittsburgh also lost reserve cornerback Curtis Brown due to a torn ACL suffered in Sunday’s win over the Browns.
Here is Monday’s official injury report:
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: S Brynden Trawick (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: DE Chris Canty (shoulder)
OUT: CB Curtis Brown (knee), DT Steve McLendon (ankle)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: LB Stevenson Sylvester (hamstring)
FULL PARTICIPATION: DE Brett Keisel (foot), S Shamarko Thomas (ankle), LB LaMarr Woodley (calf)