Art Modell moved his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore in 1996 where they morphed into the Ravens. Since then, the Ravens have left Pittsburgh nineteen times without a win while gaining eleven.
In the past two years, the Steelers have swept the series in close games. Overall, they own seven series sweeps while the Ravens have just three.
Following the 2001 season when they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship game, Coach Cowher was undecided as to who his best quarterback was. He began the season with Kordell Stewart at the helm, but after a 1-2 start switched to Tommy Maddox who improved the team’s record to 5-3-1.
A crushing injury to Maddox in the Tennessee game saw Cowher turn to Stewart, who guided the Steelers to two wins that kept them in the playoff hunt. When Maddox returned to face Houston in week 14, the Steelers were hanging on at the top of the division at 7-4-1 with both Cleveland and Baltimore on 6-6.
A loss in that game against the Texans saw them slip to 7-5-1 and only the tie against the Falcons kept them in first place above the 7-6 Browns.
Maddox steadied the ship with wins over Carolina and Tampa to navigate their seventh division title in eleven years under Coach Cowher. The Steelers still needed a win against the Ravens to ensure a bye week.
Plaxico Burress stressed the importance for the players to have a week off. “A bye week is big for every team. Everybody’s physically worn out and tired. We would like to have a bye week.”
The Ravens could still make the playoffs with a win, but they needed a lot of help from other teams to make that possible. Their main incentive was to beat their great rivals in Pittsburgh for the fourth straight time.
“Let’s face it,” said Jerome Bettis, “They don’t like us, and we don’t like them. If there is one game they want to win, it’s this one.”
The (9-5-1) Steelers vs the (7-8) Ravens; December 29, 2002
The Ravens received the game’s opening kickoff and moved the ball to the Pittsburgh 14 when Deshea Townsend intercepted Jeff Blake’s pass intended for Todd Heap. The interception stopped the Ravens advance and put the Steelers on offense.
Using Amos Zereoue on the ground and completions to Plaxico Burress and Dan Kreider, Tommy Maddox led the Steelers to Baltimore’s 23. Maddox’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward finished the 80-yard drive to put the Steelers ahead.
Turnovers by both teams saw Baltimore come out on top with a fumble recovery in the Pittsburgh end zone for a touchdown that tied the game.
At the start of the second quarter the Steelers edged ahead with a Jeff Reed field goal from 23 yards. After Pittsburgh forced a three and out on Baltimore’s next possession, Maddox led the Steelers on a 12-play drive of 54 yards that finished with Zereoue’s 1-yard touchdown run.
Chester Taylor’s kick return of 56 yards to the Pittsburgh 32 put the Ravens back in contention after they took advantage with a 6-yard touchdown from Alan Ricard.
As the half was coming to an end, Jason Gildon forced a fumble when sacking Blake which Aaron Smith recovered. After Maddox moved the chains with a 21-yard pass to Plaxico Burress, Reed kicked a 48-yard field goal to extend the Steelers lead to 20-14.
The Ravens controlled the third quarter as Maddox tried to gift the game away. A Matt Stover field goal from 43 yards reduced the Ravens deficit, before James Trapp intercepted a Maddox pass and returned it to the Steelers 47. A 31-yard touchdown pass by Blake to Heap gave Baltimore their first lead of the game.
As the game entered the final period, the Ravens extended their lead after another Maddox interception. Taylor’s 20-yard touchdown catch gave the Ravens a 31-20 advantage with twelve minutes remaining.
On their next possession, the Steelers used five minutes to move the ball 67 yards, finishing the drive with a touchdown run of 5 yards from Zereoue. The Steelers attempted to make it a three-point game with a two-point conversion attempt, but Zereoue’s run was stopped short.
On the Steelers’ kickoff, Taylor tried to field the kick on the run, but the ball bounced off his chest and he watched as Larry Foote recovered it on Baltimore’s 31. With a short field, Maddox took another five minutes off the clock before Antwaan Randle El hauled in an 8-yard touchdown pass. The two-point after attempt was successful with Burress completing the pass.
The Ravens had 2:38 and 80 yards to travel either to take the game into overtime or to produce the win. Blake’s passing gained two first downs and with the clock winding down, Joey Porter extended their drive with a roughing the passer penalty.
With 18 seconds remaining the Ravens had the opportunity of tying the game, but Coach Billick chose to go for the win. Baltimore’s Blake decided to pass into double coverage only to be picked off by Dwayne Washington. The dubious decision not to go for the field goal sealed the Steelers win.
The Pittsburgh Steelers 34 vs the Baltimore Ravens 31
When questioned on his decision to forgo the field goal that could have tied the game, Billick was adamant about his call. “It was my responsibility to call the play and take a shot,” he said. “Yeah, we could have kicked a field goal and gone into overtime. And what would have happened in overtime would have happened, and you would have based your observations on whether it was the right call or not based on how the game ended. When you’re where we’re at, with what was going on… hell you take a shot.”
Reflecting on two barren decades for the Steelers, Joey Porter acknowledged, “The sense of urgency is here. Mr. Rooney wants one now. We want one now. He gave us a dream team. Now we have to do our end of the bargain.”
A Tennessee 13-3 win over Houston denied Pittsburgh the bye week they were seeking. After a victory over Cleveland in the wildcard game, the road to Tennessee proved too far where they lost 34-31.
Mr. Rooney would have to wait another three years to put one on the thumb after the Steelers drafted their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.