It's Ravens Week

Coach Mike Tomlin sat in the chair behind the microphone, and after getting the pleasantries out of the way – a simple, good afternoon – he got right to the heart of the matter.

"It's Ravens week, of course."

Indeed, it is Ravens week in Pittsburgh, just as it undoubtedly is Steelers week in Baltimore, and what that means is the first of the annual home-and-home series of street fights between these teams is on the immediate horizon.

"It's business as usual for us, typical Baltimore Ravens kind of outfit," said Tomlin. "They have the No. 1 defense in football, led by Ray Lewis and company. He's got his usual cohorts who are wreaking havoc on their opponents. They've given up the fewest first downs by far in the NFL. I think they're second in the league in red zone defense. So they desire to play football the way we desire to play football. I think that's what makes this matchup special."

While there have been only 30 games between these teams in a series that began in 1996 according to official NFL records, Steelers-Ravens is a direct descendent of Steelers-Browns, as in the Art Modell Cleveland Browns. Back in 1950 when the NFL absorbed the Cleveland franchise from the All-America Football Conference, the residents of each city regarded the others as rubes. From there, the football games became events that often were more hotly contested in the stands than on the field.

Much of that happened before Tomlin was born, and during his life as the Steelers coach games he has been a part of seven games against the Ravens, and he has a strong opinion about the rivalry.

"I think it's unique because it's the best rivalry in the NFL," said Tomlin. "I've witnessed about the last seven of those meetings, and it's always fireworks. It's always significant. It just is. It's football the way it's supposed to be played. Those guys put a lot into it on both sides. Both teams I'd imagine are spent when it's over. Mutual respect is a big part of it."

There always is a lot of talk from both locker rooms about respecting the other side, but the reality is that the over-riding emotion come game day is not respect, but hate. Often, the winner of the game is the team best able to channel that in the proper way.

"You want to play mistake-free, and you don't want to hurt yourself," said Tomlin about a lot of the post-whistle shenigans that are a part of games against bitter rivals. "You can tell maybe the Ravens game last week vs. Cleveland got out of hand, but that's AFC North football. We understand that, and they understand that going into the game. I think these two teams do a good job, better than what people give them credit for, in terms of playing clean and controlling their emotions when we see one another. We know that the game is potentially going to be tight, and you can't reduce your chances of winning by hurting yourself."

There have been times when the stakes were high for Steelers vs. Ravens, and other times when one of the teams was mathematically eliminated from the playoffs while the other had clinched its spot. The Ravens opened the 2010 season picked by many to win the AFC North, while the Steelers were after-thoughts as a result of the Ben Roethlisberger suspension.

But as history has shown, and as Tomlin said on Tuesday, "I think most story lines are irrelevant when these two teams play each other."

Story lines are irrelevant, because when the Steelers and Ravens meet all that is important to anyone on either sideline is beating the other.

"We got a great deal of respect for this outfit," said Tomlin. "They bring the best out in us, and we love playing against them. Regardless of what happens in the stadium, you're going to learn a lot about yourself playing against the Baltimore Ravens."

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