TODD KARPOVICH, Associated Press
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens are headed for a showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a Christmas Day matchup with all sorts of playoff implications.
A victory puts the winner on the cusp of a division title while the loser will likely be on the outside of the Wild Card race, needing help to get in the postseason.
The Ravens have won the past four matchups against their archrival and should be unfazed by the thousands of Terrible Towels waving at Heinz Field. Baltimore, however, would also likely need to beat Cincinnati in the regular-season finale to win their first AFC North crown since 2012.
“The situation we find ourselves in is something that we’ve been working hard for,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Our guys have been fighting like crazy to go to Pittsburgh and then onto to Cincinnati to try and win a division championship. They’ve earned the right to do that and we’re fired up about it. We can’t wait to play the game.”
With a victory over Pittsburgh, Baltimore (8-6) would sweep the season series and take over first place in the division. The Steelers (9-5) would clinch their seventh AFC North title with a win against Baltimore. Pittsburgh closes out its regular season with a home game against the winless Cleveland Browns.
The players for Baltimore are energized by the challenge of playing the Steelers in what is sure to be a raucous crowd.
“This is what you live for,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s all the hours, all the sacrifice, all the time, it’s for a chance to win the division and get into the dance. You hope and dream every day you’re getting up at 6 a.m. or 5 a.m., you don’t see your kids – it’s for this chance, and it’s all worth it. We’ll be ready to roll, (there’s) nothing more out there for us (than) to have a chance at the division against a rival team. It’s going to be amazing.”
One key for Baltimore over the final two weeks of the regular season will be establishing a more balanced offense. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has attempted 579 passes, while the the team has run the ball 325 times, ranked 27th in the NFL.
The emphasis on throwing the ball almost ended Baltimore’s postseason hopes Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
It appeared the Ravens were about to put the game away when Flacco found receiver Mike Wallace for a 54-yard gain with just over six minutes left in the fourth quarter. With a 10-point lead, Baltimorecould have just run the ball and settled for a field goal from the reliable Justin Tucker.
However, Flacco threw an interception on the next play that helped Philadelphia get back in the game. The Ravens eventually stopped a 2-point conversion with four seconds remaining to preserve the 27-26 victory.
Harbaugh said the decision to throw the ball was “the all-time worst call ever.” Flacco, however, defended the aggressiveness of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
“Well, you can say it all you want but, I mean, to be honest with you, my thought was ‘shoot, Marty is going to give me a third touchdown pass on the day,’ ” said Flacco, who was 16 of 30 for 206 yards with two touchdowns and the interception. “I was kind of happy about it at that point, I mean, being selfish, but you’ve got to just to take care of the football and it’s a non-issue.”
Nonetheless, the Ravens earned the victory. Now, they control their own destiny for the postseason after a one-year hiatus.
“We want to win a Super Bowl, so we have to go through Pittsburgh next week to get there,” running back Kenneth Dixon said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to go prepare and do our best.”
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