BALTIMORE (AP) — Antonio Brown’s game-winning touchdown last Christmas night still hasn’t faded from Eric Weddle’s memory.
Probably never will.
The score capped a 21-point fourth quarter for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who clinched the AFC North title with a 31-27 victory over Baltimore. Weddle and the Ravens had their playoff hopes end with this bitter defeat against their longtime rivals.
“You never forget the bad plays or the plays that are so monumental to your season,” said Weddle, who had Brown in his grasp as the wide receiver stretched into the end zone to complete the 4-yard play. “We’ve never forgotten that play, that game.”
Not long after the season ended, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome embarked on a mission to add depth to a defensive backfield that was decimated by injury on that pivotal night.
Newsome signed free agents Brandon Carr and Tony Jefferson, then drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the team’s top draft pick.
On Sunday, the Ravens (2-1) will seek revenge against the Steelers (2-1) in a matchup for first place in the division. Should the game come down to the closing minutes, Baltimore expects a different ending.
“We’ve made strides this offseason of building our team to get in that situation and win the game,” Weddle said. “We’ve added players (through) free agency and in the draft to build our team for that situation. Should it come, we’ll be ready for it and ready to go win the game.”
It’s hard to predict how the Ravens’ mindset will impact the rematch.
“Some guys are motivated by experiences such as that, some guys do not need it,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said. “I really think it is individual as a fingerprint.”
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has turned the page, even though he directed a 75-yard touchdown drive that put Baltimore ahead with 1:09 left.
“It does not matter what happened,” he insisted. “There is already enough motivation for us to go out there and kick some butt.”
Some things to know about Sunday’s AFC North showdown:
ABOUT LAST WEEK: Both teams are coming off upset losses. Pittsburgh fell in overtime at Chicago and the Ravens were dismantled in London by Jacksonville.
Asked if playing the Ravens will keep his team focused, Tomlin replied, “I think the opponent is irrelevant. It is about us preparing and playing at the level of our capabilities, just like it is for Baltimore.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said, “Last week, we’re past it. We’re done with it. We’ve looked at it and we’ve moved on from it.”
MIND GAMES: The Ravens rank last in the NFL in total offense and managed only one first down in the first half last week. The Steelers have been only slightly better on offense, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger went public with his analysis of the situation.
“The quarterback needs to play better ,” he declared.
The Ravens aren’t buying it.
“Oh, Ben. He is setting us up. He is playing mind games,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “I know what he is doing. I am not going to let him fool me with trickery and Jedi mind tricks.”
TIGHT SQUEEZE: The past four games between these teams were decided by one score or less. In 12 of the past 18 games in this rivalry, the difference has been no more than a field goal.
UNFRIENDLY NEST: The Steelers are just 3-7 in Baltimore under Tomlin and have beaten the Ravens on the road just once since 2011, the victory coming in 2012 with Roethlisberger sidelined.
The Steelers are averaging just 16.1 points in Baltimore over the past decade.
“It seems like when we play this game one side always starts high, whether we go down and score the opening series and then we can’t get anything after that or vice versa,” Roethlisberger said. “We just have to make sure that we don’t get frustrated.”
UNITED WE STAND: Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey says the team will stand for the national anthem on Sunday.
Pittsburgh chose to remain in the tunnel during the anthem in Chicago in an effort to stay out of the ongoing debate over anthem protests. Left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a former Army Ranger, stood alone on the fringe of the field while the anthem played.
The fallout sent the franchise into two days of spin control. That won’t be an issue in Baltimore.
“I think if you’re divided you get brought together,” Roethlisberger said. “This is a group that is very close and I feel strongly that we will be stronger than ever.”
The Ravens have a plan in place for their action on the sideline during the anthem, but are keeping it to themselves.
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