Collier: Rivals live up to the hype in Steelers-Ravens

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They are not conventional NFL affairs, these Steelers-Ravens productions, and that is why they are not analyzed with conventional devices -- statistics, advanced metrics, even Jumbotrons.

Sure, you can measure this bi-annual crunchfest with a scoreboard, but it's always the same. Steelers-Ravens is a three-pointer. The Jumbotron is about as useful as that old stick you use to figure out whether you're looking at a standard brown trout.

Four in a row have been decided by three points. Eight of the last nine have been decided by three points. Nine of the past 11 have been decided by . . . yeah.

So no, you measure these things with a seismograph.

Or if you're persnickety, you measure by body count.

"Every play where you get an opportunity, you just thank God for it," said Troy Polamalu, who could be seen blessing himself after annihilating Baltimore's Tandon Doss on a crossing route in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh's 19-16 victory Sunday. "It was one of many plays that felt like that. You just enjoy the moment and take one play at a time."

It wasn't even clear for whom Troy was praying. He turned away stunned, and Doss got up and walked off after converting a third-and-three, resuscitating the only touchdown drive of the day by the Ravens and the only one allowed by a surging Steelers defense in the last nine quarters.

That Doss could walk away was approximately miraculous, but that Ravens kicker Justin Tucker survived an onsides kick attempt earlier in the period could probably pass Vatican certification. Tucker, who'd earlier turned to the Steelers sideline and signaled "good" after the first of his three field goals, was trying to recover his own kick when he was struck by a 230-pound missile named Stevenson Sylvester.

Told later it appeared as though he'd nearly killed the kicker, Sylvester said, "I tried to."

Tucker went to the sideline bleeding from the ear, but by then it had long since been decided that in every way for which this series is famous or infamous, Sunday's game easily met the standard.

As they like to say around here, the standard is the standard.

There were 37 new players on both sidelines for these renewed hostilities, but they delivered all of the prescribed violence as well as the typical margin of victory, and at least one side just flat enjoyed the hell out of it.

"The coaches told us how intense it would be, how amazingly physical," gushed Steelers rookie Shamarko Thomas, who repeatedly proved equal to the combustible requirements in dime coverage. "I was so excited for it because I always loved watching it on TV."

It might not have been the filthiest, nastiest, hide-your-eyes slam-a-thon in the dark history of the series, might not have been Ray Lewis-snapping-Rashard Mendenhall's-shoulder-like-a- wishbone violent, but it had plenty to grow on.

Le'Veon Bell, who ran for nearly 100 yards on a day the Steelers didn't complete a pass of even 20, twisted Corey Graham's facemask late in the first half, and Elvis Dumervil, new to this rivalry after spending the first part of his career in Denver, went offside, yanked Ben Roethlisberger's facemask, and was flagged for unnecessary roughness all in the same Steelers possession late in the third quarter.

Matt Elam, the rookie playing in Ed Reed's spot in the Baltimore secondary, stopped Derek Moye at the Ravens' 19 by flipping him onto his head after a 19-yard gain.

"We expected a physical game and both teams played that way, typical Baltimore-Pittsburgh game," said tight end Heath Miller, who scored the Steelers' only touchdown. "Both teams were being careful, trying to run the ball, but it was as hard as it always is."

The difference for the Steelers was third down, as they converted 7 of 12 such situations after going 7 for 22 in the previous two games. It didn't hurt one bit that Ravens coach John Harbaugh practically handed them three points -- a popular margin of victory in these meetings -- on the failed onsides kick.

Even more questionably, Baltimore assigned Tucker (all 180 pounds of him) to recover the kick.

"That's the play; it's called a bunt," said Harbaugh minutes after the defending Super Bowl Championships slid under .500 at 3-4. "We have guys assigned to block all their guys. They didn't get there faster than (Steeler Vince Williams) got to the ball, but we had a guy offsides (Tucker), which to me, that's the unforgiveable part of the whole thing."

Maybe that's why Sylvester punished Tucker so severely.

Mental mistakes were killing Harbaugh's team, but so was Stevenson Sylvester.

"It was great because it's been awhile since we've beaten these guys here," said Steelers veteran Brett Keisel, "but no one feels good right now. That's this series; you just gotta roll with it."

The Steelers roll it out to California now, intent on another win in Oakland prior to another road engagement in New England. You'll know how successfully they've resurrected this season by the time they meet these Ravens again.

That one comes Thanksgiving Night and, based on the frightful comportment of both sides Sunday, it should be delicious.

Steelers - homepage - genecollier

First Published October 20, 2013 8:00 PM


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