Eisenberg: Ravens-Steelers Clash Brings a Slice of Normalcy


I know I'm not alone in longing for a slice or two of normalcy in this world gone crazy – you know, some familiar experiences from our pre-pandemic existence.

Maybe that's why I didn't throw my nachos at the TV Sunday when the Tennessee Titans missed a late field goal that would've sent their game with the Pittsburgh Steelers into overtime.

The miss wasn't a positive development for the Ravens, that's for sure; it meant the Steelers had survived a gritty road test and retained sole possession of first place in the AFC North, ahead of Baltimore.

But the miss did set the stage for a reprise of the best kind of football theater – a mega-big game between the Ravens and Steelers.

Talk about a familiar experience from back in the day.

The Ravens and Steelers have butted heads seemingly forever at the top of their rough-and-tumble division, almost always with plenty on the line. The characters change and the stakes don't always measure up, but Pittsburgh's win in Tennessee set up a truly classic chapter in the rivalry – the 5-1 Ravens hosting the 6-0 Steelers Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

I don't know about you, but I couldn't be more in the mood for a throwback distraction conjuring the days before social distancing. And boy, this does the trick.

Yes, it would've been a big game even if the Steelers had lost in Tennessee after holding a 17-point lead. But the fact that they're coming to Baltimore undefeated takes the occasion to another level.

They're clearly on a mission this year, seeking to reclaim their standing as top-tier contenders after finishing six games behind the Ravens in 2019. They've got Ben Roethlisberger back. They've got a rugged defense. You know they're sick of seeing their top rivals receive so much acclaim for having an MVP quarterback, a revolutionary offense, a 12-game winning streak last year, etc.

Few expected the Steelers to catch and pass Baltimore this year, but they're a game up in the standings and would go two games up if they won Sunday, with a rematch coming on Thanksgiving night in Pittsburgh.

In other words, the Ravens' third straight division title becomes that much harder to achieve if Pittsburgh prevails Sunday.

But hey, it wouldn't be a classic Ravens-Steelers matchup without a lot on the line, right?

The Ravens are in no mood to abdicate. To the contrary, they've gone all in on making big things happen in 2020, as evidenced by their acquisition of defensive end Yannick Ngakoue in a trade last week.

The Ravens' 5-1 record suggests those big things were possible without Ngakoue, but they'd experienced enough stylistic hiccups to raise doubts. Ngakoue should be a difference-maker with his ability to get to quarterbacks as part of a basic (no blitz) rush – just what the Ravens would need against, say, the Kansas City Chiefs, among others.

Due to hit free agency after this season, Ngakoue is another elite young player (just 25) who'll soon need an expensive contract extension. The Ravens already have Lamar Jackson, Ronnie Stanley, Matthew Judon and Mark Andrews queued up for that. Marlon Humphrey recently signed such an extension.

But while the organization is already working to retain as much of that marquee talent as possible, that task will sit on the back burner for now. The Ravens are focused on the 2020 season, so all-in on maximizing their chances that they gave up a reported third-round draft pick and conditional fifth-rounder for Ngakoue.

They hate giving up picks, especially for players whose futures aren't secured, but knowing what Ngakoue could bring, they saw this as the right time to take a risk. They'll get no argument from me.

They already have one of the NFL's best teams. They just need to keep chiseling and working in hopes of fashioning a final product that can take them where they want to go in the end.

Now the Steelers are in their way. No surprise, really. It feels right. Feels normal. And how nice that is, feeling normal for a change.

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