OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Longtime Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs says he’s seen this Ben Roethlisberger movie before.
Cornerback Jimmy Smith quipped that he has “no question” in his mind that the Pittsburgh quarterback will play unless his leg literally isn’t intact.
Despite undergoing surgery on the torn meniscus in his left knee less than three weeks ago, the 34-year-old Roethlisberger has returned to practice on a limited basis and the early reviews of how he’s looked have been favorable. Since an early Sunday morning report casting doubt about his status for Week 9, more signs are pointing to what the Ravens believe to be the obvious outcome after witnessing him overcome past injuries to return to action sooner than anticipated.
“He’s going to act like, ‘I am not playing; I don’t know. I did individuals today; I threw a little bit. I still don’t know,'” said Suggs, who has sacked Roethlisberger 16 1/2 times over more than a decade of competition. “Then he’s going to walk his big ass on out there. I’ll be like, ‘How you doing, Benjamin?’ He’ll be like, ‘What’s up, Sizzle?’ Then, it’s on. Don’t fall for that.”
Ironically, Roethlisberger has missed more games against the Ravens (seven) in his career than he has against fellow AFC North foes Cincinnati and Cleveland combined (two). The Steelers are just 1-6 against Baltimore without their franchise quarterback under center since he became their starter early in the 2004 season. The Ravens are 7-9 in regular-season games started by Roethlisberger and 1-2 in the playoffs.
Both teams have plenty at stake at M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday with just a game separating them in the division standings. Desperate for a win after an 0-for-October that crushed the good vibes of a 3-0 start, the Ravens are playing a 4-3 Steelers team that’s dropped two straight games and is struggling defensively despite being in first place in an underwhelming AFC North race.
“This is not an ideal situation to go into, especially against a team like this,” said Smith, referencing the Ravens still carrying a four-game losing streak out of the bye. “It’s not going to make or break our season, but we obviously have to have this win.”
The pre-game narrative centers around the status of Roethlisberger and the overall health of both teams, but the aura of this longstanding rivalry often supersedes what can appear to be a mismatch on paper. Last December, it was the recently-signed Ryan Mallett leading an injury-ravaged Ravens team to an upset win over the playoff-bound Steelers. In 2012, 37-year-old backup Charlie Batch led Pittsburgh to a comeback victory that snapped the 15-game home winning streak of the Ravens, who would then win Super Bowl XLVII two months later.
Whether Roethlisberger plays or not, you can expect a close game with 13 of the 16 regular-season games played between these teams in the John Harbaugh era decided by a single possession. That seems appropriate with the Ravens’ current stretch of 21 of their last 23 regular-season games being decided by eight or fewer points.
It’s no secret that Baltimore is below .500 and has just one playoff appearance since its last championship four years ago, making it all the more interesting that the Ravens have won five of the last six overall meetings with the Steelers.
“I’m talking to our young guys like, ‘These games will define you — hate or not,'” said Suggs, who missed both games with Pittsburgh last season due to a torn Achilles tendon and will attempt to play with a torn biceps on Sunday. “There was a time here where we couldn’t get over that Steeler hump, and you had to become a different kind of player when you played them. I love this game.”
The Ravens are searching for that killer instinct to which Suggs referenced as they try to stop the bleeding from October and avoid missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four years. They hope to welcome some of their own reinforcements back to the field, a list including Suggs, wide receiver Steve Smith, linebacker C.J. Mosley, and offensive linemen Marshal Yanda and Ronnie Stanley.
And despite the uncertainty expressed by the Steelers and the outside world, the Ravens’ minds are made up that Roethlisberger will be out there trying to continue their 2016 misery.
“I am telling my boys that ‘7’ is playing,” Suggs said. “Not only that, he’s going to try and light our ass up, so prepare.”