Tur­key Day in­ten­sity

Bal­ti­more hosts hard-hit­ting rivalry on Thanks­giv­ing

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather - BY DAVID GINS­BURG

BAL­TI­MORE | The last time the Bal­ti­more Ravens played on Thanks­giv­ing, coach John Har­baugh gath­ered the fam­ily to­gether for a game against brother Jim and the San Fran­cisco 49ers.

Two years later, Har­baugh and the Ravens will spend the hol­i­day with their most bit­ter ri­val.

It doesn’t mat­ter that Bal­ti­more and the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers both have los­ing records at 5-6. Both teams have plenty of mo­ti­va­tion, be­cause Thurs­day night’s game has play­off ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Plus, th­ese AFC North foes al­most al­ways en­gage in a hard-hit­ting, trash-talk­ing, closely played af­fair.

“It’s al­ways a cool week when you go against th­ese guys,” Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco said. “It’s been a good game for the last hand­ful of years, and it’s al­ways a chal­lenge get­ting ready on a short week. But they have the same is­sues. It should be a lot of fun.”

Since Har­baugh took over the Ravens in 2008, Bal­ti­more has faced Pitts­burgh 13 times, in­clud­ing twice in the play­offs. Nine of those games were de­cided by three points, in­clud­ing the Steel­ers’ 19-16 win last month.

“It’s just an in­tense rivalry,” Pitts­burgh wide re­ceiver An­to­nio Brown said. “Great de­fense is played. I think ev­ery­one un­der­stands the ur­gency of the game. It’s just iron on iron. It’s al­ways a tough bat­tle, and it al­ways comes to the fourth quar­ter and to the end of the game.”

Few NFL coaches pre­fer a short week lead­ing up to an im­por­tant game, but Har­baugh loves the idea of pacing the side­line at a time when most of Amer­ica is di­gest­ing a big hol­i­day meal. “To get a chance to play on Thanks­giv­ing night in front of the whole coun­try in a rivalry such as this in Bal­ti­more is some­thing that you work hard for,” Har­baugh said. “We’re look­ing for­ward to it. We can’t wait to play.”

Five things to know about the Raven­sS­teel­ers matchup:

SURG­ING STEEL­ERS: Af­ter open­ing the sea­son with four straight de­feats, the Steel­ers have bounced back with a 5-2 run that in­cludes three con­sec­u­tive wins.

“I just think we’re all con­tin­u­ally evolv­ing, and thank­fully we’re evolv­ing in the right di­rec­tion,” coach Mike Tom­lin said.

Since that hor­rid start, Steel­ers quar­ter­back Ben Roeth­lis­berger has thrown 14 touch­down passes com­pared to only five in­ter­cep­tions. Brown has 80 catches for 1,044 yards and six touch­downs.

Asked to ex­plain the Steel­ers’ resur­gence, Brown said, “The ad­ver­sity we’ve been through has made us even tougher as a band of brothers. We ap­pre­ci­ate win­ning.”

HOME FOR THE HOL­I­DAY: The Ravens are 4-1 at home this sea­son com­pared to 1-5 on the road. It’s the con­tin­u­a­tion of a trend: Bal­ti­more is 37-8 un­der Har­baugh at home and has won 18 of the past 21 at M&T Bank Sta­dium.

“We’re go­ing into the lion’s den,” Tom­lin said. “I think any­body that is a com­peti­tor em­braces that. We’ve got a great deal of re­spect for those guys and their fans and the at­mos­phere that they cre­ate.”

SACK HAPPY: The Ravens have a sack in 22 straight games, ty­ing a fran­chise record, and line­backer Ter­rell Suggs has more sacks (16½) against Roeth­lis­berger than any other quar­ter­back.

“Be­ing that he is the hard­est guy to tackle, it’s some­thing I re­ally take pride in,” said Suggs, who has nine sacks for the sea­son but none in the past three games.

“I was think­ing about that, too,” Suggs said of the drought. “I can’t get down on my­self. I’ve still got games left.”

FA­MIL­IAR FOE: It’s tough to get an NFL team ready in just three days, but at the least Tom­lin and Har­baugh have the ad­van­tage of know­ing their op­po­nent.

“Both teams have a pretty good idea, I’m sure, of how the other is or­ga­nized,” Har­baugh said. “So, we’re pretty far down the road with each other at this point.”

RUN­NING MAN: Steel­ers rookie run­ning back Le’Veon Bell is com­ing off an 80-yard per­for­mance in Cleve­land and burned the Ravens for a ca­reer-high 93 yards the last time the teams played.

Bell has 455 yards rush­ing, five more than Bal­ti­more’s Ray Rice, a three-time Pro Bowler.

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