- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 13, 2009

OWINGS MILLS, Md. | Baltimore lost both of its regular-season games against AFC North archrival Pittsburgh, but the Ravens are hardly intimidated by a third matchup with the host Steelers in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

The games created a level of familiarity - and fresh contempt.

“I don’t know if you ever say playing the Pittsburgh Steelers is comfortable, but we do know them, and they know us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said.

Added linebacker Bart Scott: “It’s an opportunity… to really build up the level of hatred.”

The natural antagonism that comes with being division foes has been heightened by a plethora of bragging, nasty hits and ejections. The controversial touchdown catch by Santonio Holmes that gave the Steelers a 13-9 victory in Week 15 at Baltimore only strengthened the rivalry.

Harbaugh termed that play “ancient history,” but Scott said he can’t wait for another shot at the Steelers, who also edged the Ravens 23-20 in overtime in Week 4 in Pittsburgh.

“We’re going into a hostile environment… but if you wanted to go to the Super Bowl, who else would you rather it be than the Pittsburgh Steelers?” Scott said. “I love the way they play. You want to play the best, and I think they are the best right now. You want an opportunity to prove yourself against the best. We didn’t want to go to San Diego.”

The Steelers ensured that by thrashing the visiting Chargers 35-24 in the divisional round, scoring their most points since Week 7. However, Sunday’s game figures to be decided by the NFL’s best defenses. The Steelers and Ravens ranked first and second in yards allowed and first and third in points allowed during the regular season. Neither team ranked in the top 10 in those categories on offense.

“It’s two football teams that play a certain brand of football,” Harbaugh said. “It’s physical football. It’s fundamental. It’s very disciplined.”

That mentality might be enhanced by the weather. The forecast for Sunday night in Pittsburgh is for temperatures in the 20s with a chance of snow showers. That’s fine with the Ravens, who began their playoff run in sunny Miami with a 27-9 rout of the AFC East champion Dolphins before upsetting top-seeded Tennessee 13-10 in chilly Nashville.

“It’s going to be cold, might be snowing, might be raining,” receiver Derrick Mason said. “The ground’s going to be terrible. It fits right into what we like to do.”

That’s relying on a defense that had eight takeaways against Miami and Tennessee while the offense lost only one turnover. By comparison, Baltimore forced three turnovers in its regular-season games against Pittsburgh - and gave the ball up three times.

“These games are what they’re expected to be,” safety Jim Leonhard said. “They’re physical. There’s a lot of talking. You have to come to work for 60 minutes, or you’re going to get it handed to you. Sometimes I think you have to have those losses in order to grow. We’ve learned from those games. It’s helped us to get to where we are.”

Heinz Field for the AFC title game is right where the Ravens want to be, even though they’re 1-7 there, including a divisional playoff loss Jan. 20, 2002.

“It’s good to get an opportunity to play a team that’s beaten you to try to redeem yourself,” Mason said. “Hopefully for us, the third time’s the charm.”

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