KANSAS CITY, Mo. — I’d love to tell you more about the 30-7 beatdown the Baltimore Ravens (13-4) handed the Kansas City Chiefs (10-7) in an AFC Wild Card playoff matchup Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium, but there’s not too much to say.
The Ravens were really good. The Chiefs had one good play.
However, the Ravens win (coupled with the New York Jets’ stunning 17-16 win over the Indianapolis Colts Saturday night at LucasOil Stadium) sets up a storyline that is ABSOLUTELY worth writing about.
The Ravens’ road to a potential Super Bowl XLV berth will now take them directly to Heinz Field for a divisional round showdown with their heated AFC North rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4).
It’s going to be a fun week.
“I think every year (except last year) we’ve had to play Pittsburgh in order to advance” said WR Derrick Mason after Sunday’s game. “They got the best of us that first year, we didn’t get a chance to play them last year. What (a) fitting way to play them again to advance.”
The Ravens of course SHOULD have to go through the Steel City to reach the AFC Championship Game, right? What else could possibly define the success of a season?
Through 18 weeks, the teams’ season has been defined by a crushing 13-10 loss in Week 13 to the Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium. When they get together next Saturday, the Ravens will have a major opportunity to re-write the story of their campaign.
“It’s going to be just like it always is” said QB Joe Flacco. “It’s going to be a big, physical football game. It should be a lot of fun to play in and a lot of fun to watch. We’re excited about it.”
This of course brings us to the unfortunate part of the story. The part where we have to remind everyone that for all of the success the Ravens have had since John Harbaugh became Head Coach (this makes four playoff wins in three seasons), they’ve never beaten the Steelers when QB Ben Roethlisberger has played.
For this season to not end in heartbreak, that is obviously going to have to change.
“It seems like poetic justice” said Harbaugh. “Whatever we can pour into that game, whatever we can draw from, it’s going to important because they’re so good.”
The reality is that there’s a cosmic feeling about playing the Steelers in the postseason. There’s something a little more special about knowing everything will be on the line against the team most despised by football fans in Charm City.
With no offense to anyone in KC, but things were supposed to happen this way. A Chiefs-Steelers contest would have meant little for the “football gods.” Ravens-Steelers was just meant to be.
“It’s personal between the two cities” said LB Terrell Suggs. “It shouldn’t surprise you that these two teams (are) in the fight and at each others’ throats every year. This is the NFL at its best.”
If the Ravens are finally going to vanquish Big Ben and the Steelers; they’re going to need to continue their stout defensive play. They allowed just 161 yards against the Chiefs and forced five turnovers. Over their last three games (regular season wins at the Cleveland Browns and against the Cincinnati Bengals plus the playoff victory), the Ravens defense has given up just 24 points and forced 14 turnovers.
Of course, the Steelers are plenty capable of playing good defense as well, their unit finished the regular season as the top defense in the league.
This is how it was supposed to be all along. If the Ravens are going to get back to the Super Bowl, the Steelers were always going to stand in their path.
In the days following the Ravens’ Week 13 loss, I wrote about the dynamic between the two teams, sensing the urgency that surrounded Baltimore’s struggles in the rivalry.
“If John Harbaugh is going to succeed as the Head Coach of the Baltimore Ravens, he is going to HAVE to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers.”
Less than six weeks later, Harbaugh will get another crack.
There will be no hyperbole necessary this week. If Harbaugh and the Ravens don’t beat the Steelers, the season will end without a trip to the Super Bowl for a third straight year. Making matters worse, the Steelers get a chance to play for their second Super Bowl trip in three seasons and their third in six years.
It doesn’t take a football historian to understand the significance.
And this time, there will be an added level of emotion surrounding the game.
Following the win over the Chiefs, the organization presented S Ed Reed with a game ball-meant to be given to the entire Reed family.
Over the weekend, a search for Reed’s little brother (Brian Reed) was called off. The younger Reed had jumped into the Mississippi River while being pursued by police, leading many to presume he was dead.
Reed played with a heavy heart Sunday, but made an emphatic statement when accepting the game ball.
In postgame video captured by CBS, Reed told his teammates “my brother…he loved football. But he’d want to beat Pittsburgh.”
It had to be this way.
NOTES: Hear from Harbaugh, Flacco, Reed, Mason, Suggs, TE Todd Heap and LB Ray Lewis now in the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault at WNST.net……The Ravens will be off Monday due to the short week before Saturday’s game……C Matt Birk is scheduled to join Drew Forrester on “The Morning Reaction” on AM1570 WNST Monday at 9:30am