Steelers Game Has High Stakes

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Even though the Ravens have adopted a week-to-week mantra throughout their entire season, it's hard to dismiss Sunday's matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers as just another game.

Not only are the 9-4 Ravens looking to remain in the race for an AFC Wild Card spot, a win would also go a long way towards taking the AFC North crown from the first-place Steelers (10-3).

After the Week 14 slate of contests, Baltimore holds on to the sixth and final AFC playoff ticket.

Pittsburgh, who scored 17 fourth-quarter points to come from behind and beat the Dallas Cowboys last week, currently have a one-game lead over the Ravens and are second in that queue.

"We want to be champions," head coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "That's something every team in the division definitely plays for, so we're not backing down from the fact that that's our goal. The Steelers stand between us and the division championship, and they're next up on the schedule."

Baltimore has been on a tear of late, prevailing in seven of their last eight games to position themselves squarely in the playoff hunt.

Over that span, the Ravens have averaged the most points, 29.8 per game and have only allowed 14.1, which is the league's second-best mark. They are doing it with the type of football that can grind out tough victories in the unforgiving winter months.

The Ravens are finding success running the ball, averaging 150.8 yards as a team since an Oct. 19 contest against the Miami Dolphins, while quarterback Joe Flacco has been careful and protective of the football, making plays with his arm when needed.

Conversely, Baltimore's defense has clamped down to only allow 273.8 yards a game.

Both go hand in hand to give the Ravens' a stellar turnover ratio of 12 during the eight-game period.

"What have we done?" Harbaugh asked. "We've earned the right to play one more meaningful game in December. That's all we've done. But that's a lot, and that's something to be proud of."

Just last week, that gritty style was on display in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins.

Washington was held to 254 net yards and scored the first touchdown against the Ravens' defense in 46 consecutive opponents' possessions.

Even though the Ravens lost a Willis McGahee fumble and Flacco tossed an interception – his first in three weeks – Baltimore racked up enough of an early lead before pounding the Redskins into submission with a 12-play, 83-yard scoring drive in the fourth quarter. The march featured 10 pounding runs from 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain

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"Winning a very tough, physical football game in December is not an easy thing to do," Harbaugh explained. "The way you do that is you bring a really good football team into the game, and that's what our team did."

The Ravens know they are more or less in control of their own destiny, but it will likely take wins in two of the next three games to remain among the conference's elite.

After the Steelers showdown, Baltimore travels to Dallas to take on the Cowboys, followed by the season finale at M&T Bank Stadium against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"We still have three more games," said safety Ed Reed

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. "We are taking them one at a time. That is what we've been doing, focusing week to week. It is the right time for us, but at the same time we have to focus on one game at a time."

Actually, there is somewhat of a balance to the mindset Harbaugh wants his players to have, as the Ravens' second meeting with Pittsburgh this year counts as a big test in a critical three-game mission.

"Do [the games] become more important as they go?" the coach admitted. "Absolutely, because the more games you win and the deeper you get into the season, they do become more important. The fact that it's a division rival, it's the two top teams in the division…

"It's pretty appropriate that the two best teams in the division will be playing for the division championship, really, not just this week but for the next three weeks. So in that sense, it's exciting to be a part of it. Our players have earned it."

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