Ravens up next for Steelers on AFC North revenge tour
The game this weekend against the Baltimore Ravens isn’t so much a rematch for the Pittsburgh Steelers as it is part two of the team’s midseason revenge tour across the AFC North.
In part one, the Steelers avenged an season-opening tie against the Cleveland Browns with a decisive 33-18 victory Sunday at Heinz Field to remain stationed atop the division with a 4-2-1 record.
Now, it’s off to Baltimore for the sequel to the Week 4 game at Heinz Field, a 26-14 victory by the Ravens that dropped the Steelers to 1-2-1 and into the division cellar.
“I guess you could say that,” tight end Vance McDonald said Monday when presented with the revenge tour hypothesis. “I don’t look at it that way personally, but it’s two big games back-to-back and an opponent that we played once before and didn’t have it go the way we wanted it to.”
The Sept. 30 loss to the Ravens gave the Steelers an 0-2 start at home. They fell behind by 14 points in the first half, and, after tying the score, they had just 47 yards the rest of the way as the Ravens controlled the ball for 21 minutes in the second half while kicking four field goals.
“It definitely leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” McDonald said. “Of course, you want that challenge again being competitors and doing this for a long time.”
Added defensive end Stephon Tuitt: “We’ve got a lot of vengeance from that.”
Much has changed since the first meeting. The Steelers have won three games in a row (two at home), with a bye sandwiched in. The Ravens, who were 3-1 after beating the Steelers, have lost three of their past four to fall to 4-4 and into third place.
In the past two weeks, the Ravens lost at home when kicker Justin Tucker missed an extra point for the first time in his NFL career in a 24-23 loss to New Orleans. Then, they fell behind by 17 points at halftime at Carolina en route to a 36-21 defeat.
Guard David DeCastro said the Steelers shouldn’t need to be reminded of what is at stake Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
“I don’t think you need a chip on your shoulder when you’re playing Baltimore,” he said. “This is a division game. I know they lost, so I know they are going to be even hungrier at home. We know what we have ahead of us. Hopefully, everyone is aware in here of what is coming for us.”
Thanks to a scheduling quirk, after the Steelers leave Baltimore, they won’t play a division game until the final week of the season when Cincinnati (5-3) visits Heinz Field. Starting with the game Oct. 14 against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers conclude the first half of their schedule with a trio of division games.
Since the NFL went to the four-division format in each conference in 2002, the Steelers never have played three successive division games so early in the season. And the last time they played only one division opponent after Dec. 1 was in 2004. In fact, in six of the past eight seasons, they have played at least three division rivals in December or January.
“That’s why these games are so important,” DeCastro said. “That’s why they are more important than other games.”
In 2010, the NFL began scheduling intra-division games on Week 17 for all teams as a way to magnify the importance of the final week. It has had the opposite effect for the Steelers in recent seasons.
When the Steelers played the Browns on the final weekend the past two seasons, they already had playoff positioning established, rendering Week 17 meaningless.
If the Steelers want that to be the case again this season, they will have to build a cushion in the second half without the advantage of any more head-to-head games against their division rivals. As it stands, they maintain a percentage-points lead over the Bengals: .643 to .625.
The second-half schedule includes flights to various locales — Jacksonville, Denver, New Orleans and Oakland — plus home games against New England, San Diego and Carolina.
Which makes Sunday’s game all the more important.
“We have to start putting ourselves in position as far as the playoffs,” guard Ramon Foster said. “This is when you start positioning yourself. You can’t drop losses.”
Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at email@example.com or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.