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Kevin Gorman: In Steelers-Ravens rivalry, hit or get hit

November 27, 2018

Hit first. Ask questions later.

That’s the advice Pittsburgh Steelers inside linebacker Vince Williams offers to teammates Jon Bostic and Morgan Burnett, a pair of NFL veterans new this season to the Steelers-Ravens rivalry.

Sunday marks the first visit to Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium for Bostic and Burnett, who watched the AFC North feud from afar and likened it to an old NFC North rivalry.

“The rivalries are different,” Burnett said. “Every division has its uniqueness. Bears-Packers is a big rivalry. When you think about Steelers-Ravens, that’s a big rivalry.

“You just remember the big names that’s been involved with this game, the winning that’s been involved with both sides, the championships that’s been won on both sides. You know when you see those two match up, it’s going to be a close game, a hard-fought game. As a fan and football player, that’s what you want to see.”

They were on opposite sides of Bears-Packers, with Bostic playing inside linebacker for Chicago and Burnett strong safety for Green Bay. Both signed with the Steelers as free agents in the offseason but know there’s something different about Steelers-Ravens.

“Really, it speaks for itself,” Bostic said. “We pretty much all grew up watching this game, watching all the great players on both sides and the defensive battles that come on both sides. It’s definitely fun to be a part of. We didn’t like the outcome from last time. We know we have to play better to come out with a W, especially in Baltimore.”

The magnitude of this matchup is evident. After tying the Browns in the opener and losing to the Ravens, 26-14, on Sept. 30 at Heinz Field, the Steelers have since beaten the Bengals and Browns to move from last place into first and are trying to put the AFC North race out of reach.

“The rivalries are different,” Williams said. “This one is unique. For the most part, it’s been really dominated by defenses. It’s always going to be a close game. You’re always going to get 100 percent effort.”

The games are self-explanatory. They are almost always close, save two of the last three meetings: The Steelers suffered a double-digit defeat (26-14) on Sept. 30 at Heinz Field, won by 17 points in Baltimore (26-9) last year and in-between played a classic that ended with a Chris Boswell’s last-minute field goal for a 39-38 Steelers victory.

Since Mike Tomlin became Steelers coach in 2007, 16 of the 23 regular-season meetings with the Ravens have been decided by single digits. Surprisingly enough, the Steelers are 11-12 against the Ravens in the regular season under Tomlin, but have won two of three postseason meetings. So, this one is a tiebreaker for Tomlin.

As for the effort, that’s something players have to experience first-hand to understand the physicality involved. Williams has a clear recollection of his introduction, especially a sequence involving a former Ravens running back and Steelers safety.

“Ray Rice got a little seam and hit the C-gap and ran Ryan Clark over for a 13-yard gain and threw the ball at him and was flexing,” Williams said, smiling at the memory Friday. “Ryan Clark came back three plays later and smashed him.

“I was like, ‘There’s a lot of ebb and flow in this game.’ ”

That ebb and flow is something Bostic and Burnett have to experience for themselves in Baltimore, something their teammates don’t share because they know nothing compares to Steelers-Ravens and nothing can prepare the newcomers.

The Steelers don’t have to tell them about Ray Lewis separating the shoulder of Rashard Mendenhall, Bart Scott knocking the wind out of Ben Roethlisberger and Haloti Ngata breaking Big Ben’s nose, Clark crushing Willis McGahee or Troy Polamalu intercepting Joe Flacco and returning it for a touchdown to send the Steelers to the Super Bowl.

“Sometimes, what’s understood doesn’t have to be explained,” Burnett said. “No words are needed. You know what’s on the line. You know how big of a game it is.

“You can tell from afar, as well as being on the inside, that it’s a real intense game, a real intense rivalry. It’s a division game. Anytime you play a division game, it means more. You can just see the intensity of the game on both sides. You’ve got to come out ready to play.”

Ready to hit or be hit, no questions asked.

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