The Baltimore Ravens had to hang on in the final moments to earn another three-point victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field just two weeks ago. It was the fifth straight regular season game between the two in Pittsburgh to be decided by exactly three points.
The last time these two teams played in Baltimore, however, the margin of victory was four touchdowns as the Ravens obliterated the Steelers 35-7 on opening day of the 2011 season. The Ravens have not lost at home since the 2010 season, when Pittsburgh came into M&T Bank Stadium and edged the Ravens in just one of the many classics between the two teams.
However, this is not 2010 and the Ravens have been on a roll while the Steelers are fighting to stay healthy and remain in the playoff race. Sunday will be a real tall task for the Steelers, with or without their great QB in there. A healthy Ben Roethlisberger would be facing a Ravens team that has virtually locked down a playoff spot as well as the AFC North title for the second year in a row.
To expose an injured Roethlisberger to the Ravens defense, who always makes Ben pay for every play he makes would be insane at this point of the season, especially with his questionable health issues. If the reports about his rib injury and the proximity to puncturing his aorta were accurate, then why risk further damage, perhaps even serious to be considered life-threatening, when there is almost no reason to justify it?
Pittsburgh is still firmly in the playoff hunt, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals at 6-5 for the second Wild Card spot behind the 7-4 Indianapolis Colts. They hold the tie-breaker by virtue of their 24-17 win over the Bengals earlier this season. Even with a loss to the Ravens Sunday, the rest of the Steelers schedule is one that they could still get one of the two Wild Card spots as well as a healthy starting quarterback.
The Steelers also get the Bengals in Pittsburgh in week 16 to directly control their post-season destiny. Their other games (vs. Chargers, at Cowboys, vs. Browns) are all win-able which could see them finish at 10-6, which would almost certainly ensure them a post season berth.
Risking an injury in a game against their most physical opponent could possibly result in a victory, but at what cost? Roethlisberger could jeopardize not only the rest of the season but his career much less his life. The better option would be to rest him at least one more week and then determine what value his return could dictate on a game-by-game basis.
As much as Ravens fan cannot stand the Steelers and their QB, there has always been much respect between the two teams, their coaches, players and yes, even their fans. While we love seeing Big Ben lying prone on the field with a Ravens player looming over him in celebration, no one wants to see an injury or a career threatened by an unnecessary will to compete.