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"We understand that every time you play the Baltimore Ravens, you have to bring it or you will be embarrassed on the scoreboard and embarrassed physically," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said last week. "Our fans don't like the fact that they're one of the few teams that hits us back."
Newsome has been butting heads with the Steelers since 1978, first as a tight end with the Browns and now as an executive. "You can measure yourself and your season with your ability to beat the Steelers," Newsome says. "It hasn't changed."
The new Ravens had only heard stories about the rivalry, but they couldn't wait to get their own taste of it. Pollard, who previously played for the Chiefs and the Texans, used to seek out Ravens-Steelers highlights after his own games.
"You always knew something was going to go down," Pollard said last Thursday. "That went into my decision to come [to Baltimore] because you see guys get down and dirty. At the end of the day we are all dogs without a leash. That's what you have out there."
The Baltimore coaching staff was happy to oblige its new charges, throwing them headlong into a game plan that was executed with precision. On the Ravens' first play from scrimmage, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called for a Rice run off the left side. McKinnie, who was released by the Vikings after reporting to camp well overweight, at 387, made an initial block, then launched himself into linebacker James Farrior on the second level. Rice dashed for the first 36 of his 107 yards. The tone was set.
Said Cameron of McKinnie, "It doesn't hurt to give a guy a chance to tee off on somebody the first play of the game."
While the new members of the Ravens gave Baltimore a different energy, the veterans carried the burden of heartbreaking losses to the Steelers. "I knew they had some bitterness in them," Smith said of his older teammates. At halftime, with the Ravens leading by the same 21--7 margin they enjoyed in last January's divisional playoff game, several players talked about being in this position before. This time, they promised, they would make it right. That wasn't what Lewis wanted to hear, so he took the floor and let loose.
"I corrected everybody," he said. "Everyone was basically saying, 'We've been here before,' and I was like, 'We haven't been here before—2010 and all those other years are behind us.'"
While Lewis, safety Ed Reed (two interceptions, four passes defensed) and nosetackle Haloti Ngata (two fumble recoveries, one forced fumble) handled the details of new defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's more aggressive, get-to-the-quarterback scheme, Baltimore's offense was predominantly in the hands of two players for whom last year's playoff meltdown was an especially dismal memory: Flacco, who had thrown an interception and lost a fumble, and the normally sure-handed Rice, who had also fumbled. In fact, some viewed Flacco, the 18th pick in the 2008 draft, as the only question mark on an otherwise Super Bowl--ready team.
"Joe knows the heat that comes with the territory, but he's played pretty darn good in those [Steelers] games," Cameron says. "Everyone picks a quarterback apart until he beats the team [that] maybe he's lost to a few times. I always knew he was made of the right stuff."