Steelers on the playoff bubble heading into matchup with Ravens
BALTIMORE (AP) — This has become a bit of a habit for the Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years — arriving in Baltimore on the playoff bubble for their regular-season finale.
The Ravens host the Steelers on Saturday, and although the matchup doesn't mean much for Baltimore's postseason seeding, it's huge for Pittsburgh. The Steelers can clinch a postseason berth with a victory and a loss by either Buffalo or Jacksonville. There is a scenario in which Pittsburgh could get in with a loss, but that requires help from multiple teams.
“We’ve been in this situation so many times, you can’t afford to look at all the, ‘We need this to happen, we need that to happen,’" Pittsburgh linebacker T.J. Watt said. "At the end of the day, if we don’t take care of our business — I know it sounds so cliché — but it really doesn’t matter.”
Baltimore (13-3) has already wrapped up the top seed in the AFC and MVP favorite Lamar Jackson isn't playing in this game.
It was a similar scenario in 2019, when the Ravens hosted Pittsburgh to end the regular season and were in a position to hold Jackson out. The Steelers were fighting for a postseason spot, but they lost to Baltimore — with Robert Griffin III at quarterback — and didn't make it.
In 2021, Jackson was injured. Pittsburgh beat the Ravens in overtime, and since Jacksonville upset Indianapolis, the Steelers made the playoffs to extend Ben Roethlisberger's career a little longer.
Now, Pittsburgh (9-7) has a chance to sneak in again despite having been outgained by over 700 yards on the season so far.
Mason Rudolph has quarterbacked the Steelers to wins over Cincinnati and Seattle to put them in this position.
Tyler Huntley is set to start in Jackson's place for Baltimore, and the Ravens have also ruled out receiver Odell Beckham Jr., cornerback Marlon Humphrey, guard Kevin Zeitler, linebacker Malik Harrison and defensive back Daryl Worley. Receiver Zay Flowers is doubtful, and safety Kyle Hamilton is questionable with a knee injury.
In addition to the two times he has missed a game against Pittsburgh because the Ravens held him out before the playoffs, Jackson has also been unavailable against the Steelers three times because of injuries and once because of COVID-19.
Huntley started both games against Pittsburgh last season, and the Ravens won one.
"They're a physical team, and it’s always a good game," Huntley said. "We’ve just got to just score points, and our defense is going to handle the rest.”
Lost in the attention paid to Rudolph’s breakout performances over the last two weeks is the play of running backs Najee Harris and Jaylen Warren. They've each topped 1,000 yards from scrimmage, becoming just the fourth pair of running backs in team history to reach that plateau in the same season.
“Those two guys are selfless and they just want to win,” said interim offensive coordinator Eddie Faulker, who is also the running backs coach. “They come into work every day and they play so well off each other because I think they’re a lot different. They play well off of each other because they’re both good football players, and we try to keep on playing into their skill set.”
TAKE IT AWAY
Baltimore (plus-12) and Pittsburgh (plus-11) are the top two teams in the NFL in turnover margin. The Ravens have a league-high 29 takeaways, while the Steelers are tied for the fewest giveaways at 14.
Steelers rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. hasn't waited long to deliver on his potential. The second-round pick has shown flashes of becoming the shutdown corner Pittsburgh has lacked in recent years.
Porter's play has validated Pittsburgh's approach to bring him along slowly. He didn't move into the starting lineup until late October, but has thrived while often matching up against opponents' top receivers.
“It didn’t feel right (sitting), you’re eager to make plays with the guys,” Porter said. "(The coaches) told me it’s going to be meaningful down the long road. This is a long season. I don’t know where my body would be at if I’d played all those snaps (early in the year). I came in and I came in hot which is what we needed at that time.”
In maybe their most frustrating game of the season, the Ravens led 10-3 in the fourth quarter before Pittsburgh scored 14 points — a safety, a field goal, a touchdown and another field goal — to win 17-10.
Baltimore turned the ball over three times in that October matchup.
“No matter who you play in this particular game in this situation, there would be no lack of motivation. Our guys love to play," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “The fact that it’s a division rival — the Steelers — that certainly doesn’t lessen it. It’s always a very important game for us. It’s a team that we respect very much.”
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