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 (5-6) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) both have losing records. Both teams have plenty of motivation, because tonight’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.
Five things to know about the Ravens-Steelers matchup:
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 last 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, and (we’re) really looking forward to pitting our skills versus theirs within it.”
The Ravens have a sack in 22 straight games, tying a franchise record, and linebacker Terrell Suggs has more sacks (16 1/2) 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 last three games.
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.”
Said Tomlin: “I think every short week I’ve had, really since they’ve been doing these Thursday night games in ’08, has been with a familiar opponent. I think that’s something that the league makes a conscious effort to do.”
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.