After growing up watching the Ravens-Steelers rivalry, Tyler Huntley will be a major player in it.
Huntley was named the starting quarterback by Head Coach John Harbaugh for Sunday's regular-season finale, with the Ravens facing a must-win situation and Lamar Jackson (ankle) still not ready to play. Huntley has already started opposite one future Hall of Fame quarterback this season, Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers. Now Huntley will start against the Steelers, led by future Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger, who is expected to retire after the season.
Knowing this could be Roethlisberger's final game and with both teams clinging to slim playoff hopes, Huntley expects the atmosphere to be even more special than a typical Ravens-Steelers clash.
"It's a great opportunity, it's a great accomplishment just to be in the Ravens versus the Steelers [rivalry]," Huntley said. "You grow up seeing that on TV. Just the legendary games that went on. It's so crazy and a blessing that I get to meet such great quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger."
Huntley has played with admirable poise in his three previous starts, including a come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears and narrow losses to the Packers and Los Angeles Rams. Huntley also played well in relief of Jackson after he was injured Dec. 12 in Cleveland.
Huntley said he feels much better this week compared to last weekend's game against the Rams when he was coming off the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
"I think anybody that had COVID can vouch for me," Huntley said. "Days after, I was still feeling it in my chest. Just getting that sickness up and out of me, [I had] a couple days without eating, I finally got some food in me. I got some fluids in me, and I'm feeling way better this week."
While the Ravens certainly would've wanted Jackson under center during this critical four-game final stretch, no matter how the season ends, Huntley's game experience will help him moving forward.
"It's like a little kid learning how to draw," Huntley said. "The first time you draw, it looks crazy. Then you get a little better, you get an actual kind-of picture, and then, as they keep going, they add some color to it and it starts looking like a real-deal picture."
Relationship with Greg Roman Helps Mark Andrews Maximize Ability
As the NFL's most productive tight end this season, Mark Andrews said his relationship with Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman is a key to his success.
The two bonded from Day 1 in 2018 when Andrews was a rookie and Roman was tight ends coach. When they go over the game plan each week, Andrews and Roman share ideas that help the talented tight end maximize his abilities. No tight end in the league has been targeted more than Andrews (138).
"G-Ro and I have a special relationship," Andrews said. "He's so knowledgeable about everything. I think he's helped kind of put me into the place where I am today, make me the player that I am today. I've learned a lot from him. I'm able to go to him, talk about things, and I think when he's watching games, when he's watching plays, I think he has me in mind with a lot of different things."
Roman often talks about Andrews' ability to improvise on different routes, finding creative ways to get open. Meanwhile, Andrews' improvement in gaining yards after the catch this season has made him even more dynamic.
"We're seeing him grow into being great right in front of our eyes," Roman said." I think he's always been a good player, but I think he's really confronted some things that he really wanted to work on as a player to become a better, more consistent, clutch player. With Mark, we can do some things that I wouldn't do with other people and wouldn't even try to do with other people."
Andrews Discusses Losing Patrick Ricard
The Ravens won't have Pro Bowl fullback Patrick Ricard on Sunday after he was placed on injured reserve this week. Ricard's season is done unless the Ravens make the playoffs, and he would be eligible to come back for the AFC championship.
One of the NFL's most devastating blockers, Ricard has been banged up down the critical final stretch. He returned after a three-game absence against the Los Angeles Rams last weekend and played 28 offensive snaps.
His presence will be missed Sunday, with Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt coming to town with 21.5 sacks and looking to break Michael Strahan's single-season sack record of 22.5. Ricard's ability to move across the formation as a blocker and receiver makes him a valuable component in Roman's system and Andrews said that presence will be missed.
"Pat's a very unique player," Andrews said. "Obviously, not having him is a loss for our team, because he's so versatile and dynamic."
Watt's Game-Wrecking Potential Is Well-Known But Difficult to Stop
Every opponent has a gameplan to keep Watt from causing chaos, but it's easier said than done. Watt had 3.5 sacks the last time he faced the Ravens, and on the game-deciding play, Watt forced Jackson to throw around him on an attempted two-point conversion pass that fell incomplete.
Harbaugh is confident the Ravens can keep Watt from wrecking their game plan, but the challenge he presents is formidable.
"He's the best pass rusher in football," Harbaugh said. "He might be the best defensive player in football. He's having a phenomenal season. He's had, what, two, or three, or four phenomenal seasons. As long as he's been in the league, he just keeps getting better and better.
"They've led the league in sacks for the last three years in a row. This is a great pass rush team, and we're going to have our hands full with that. We're going to do our best. I'm confident in our guys and our scheme, and we'll see what happens on Sunday."
Watt will have a bullseye on Huntley, who does not want to be the victim on a record-setting sack.
"He's a great player," Huntley said. "We played against a great D-line last week [with] Aaron Donald and Von Miller. So, shoot – weeks before that, we played against [Jadeveon] Clowney and Myles Garrett. There are great players in this league – that's why it's the NFL. We just have to go out and execute on our part."