Ravens' hopes hinge on stopping Roethlisberger
OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Ben Roethlisberger has a knack for beating the Baltimore Ravens.
The Ravens have tried just about everything to slow the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback — even breaking his nose — but they haven't been able to break his spirit. Roethlisberger is 8-2 as a starter against Baltimore and has won six straight since 2006.
Last month, albeit quite accidentally, Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata broke Roethlisberger's nose on the Steelers' opening series. Roethlisberger shrugged off the injury, played the entire game and threw the decisive touchdown pass in Pittsburgh's 13-10 victory.
The Steelers and Ravens meet again Saturday in the second round of the playoffs. It will be the third game of the season between the AFC North rivals, and Baltimore's hopes of winning hinge heavily upon stopping Roethlisberger.
"We're going to get after him like we always do. It's going to be really important," coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the key to stopping him: You've got to get him down. You can't let him extend plays."
The 6-foot-5, 241-pound Roethlisberger looks more like a tight end than a quarterback, and he would rather run through a tackler than slide to a halt. In that December game against the Ravens, he entered with an injured right foot and left with a shattered nose, yet still got the job done in a game that propelled Pittsburgh to the division title.
"I was glad we broke his nose," Harbaugh said with a wry grin, "and I was very impressed he played through it. Obviously, you can throw very effectively with a broken nose. He proved that."
Baltimore has defeated Pittsburgh three times over the past four seasons, and in each instance Roethlisberger missed the game. He was inactive in a 27-21 loss in 2007 because the Steelers had already clinched a playoff berth; he was sidelined with a concussion in a 20-17 defeat last year; and he sat out the first matchup this season while serving an NFL-issued suspension for violating the league's conduct policy.
Now Roethlisberger is eager to extend a winning streak against the Ravens that he finds as perplexing as a Chinese crossword puzzle.
"I don't think there's any magic recipe other than I guess I'm lucky," Roethlisberger said Tuesday. "That's all there is."
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said, "I don't read too much into those things. Ben has won a lot of games here, period. So, I don't think it's anything that he has over the Baltimore Ravens or anything of that nature."
The quarterback known as Big Ben has mixed feelings about facing the Ravens. Roethlisberger enjoys the intensity of participating in a game between two very good teams that despise each other and love to hit, but winning is never easy.
"As a competitor, you love it. But heck no, I hate playing the Ravens because they're so good," he said. "On defense, every single person and every scheme, everything they do, it challenges you. As a competitor, you like that challenge. But they're good."
After he struggled to the sideline last month during that game in Baltimore, Roethlisberger stuffed a couple of wads of cotton in his nose and prepared for the next series. When he got back on the field, he mistakenly blamed Ravens tackle Kelly Gregg for the hard hit.
It was an oversight he intends to make amends for on Saturday.
"I have to apologize to Kelly Gregg when I see him on the field because I was giving him a hard time," Roethlisberger said. "I was joking about how I was going to send him the bill; no way was it on purpose."
The Ravens again intend to keep it clean in their effort to chase Roethlisberger out of the pocket.
"I am not going to say I wish him success or anything, or to have a good game or nothing like that," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "But we don't want to see anyone get hurt."
The Suggs vs. Roethlisberger matchup is a rivalry within a rivalry.
"He and I usually battle it out, and these are always good games," the quarterback said. "I like his tenacity. He's tough and physical. We know all that stuff, but he never stops. His motor never stops going. He's a tough guy, and I like playing against him. We talk a little bit to each other out there, I won't call it trash talking, but we talk to each other. So it's a lot of fun."
Asked if he could remember the last time he lost to the Ravens, Roethlisberger replied, "I don't like losing. I remember all my losses."
Over the past four years, however, his memories have all been positive.
"You know what? Anytime these two teams play, the winner walks off the field feeling pretty good about themselves," he said. "I know that because I know some of the guys over there and I know what this rivalry means. It's always a big-time game."