Allegany Communications Sports

So here we go again. The Baltimore Ravens host the Pittsburgh Steelers just three weeks after out slugging their longtime rival, 16-14, in Pittsburgh, as the Steelers missed a field goal and had another one blocked. Both teams had to use two quarterbacks, as both starters, Tyler Huntley and Kenny Pickett, left the game to concussion protocol.

The Ravens rushed for over 200 yards to seal the victory and more of the same physical, old-style play is expected to take place on Sunday, because it’s what has always made these games special, and because both teams still have much to play for.

The Ravens (10-5) have clinched a playoff berth and could be the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs. However, two wins to finish out against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati gives Baltimore the AFC North title. The Steelers (7-8) are still mathematically alive for a playoff berth and they are also playing to avoid the first losing season in head coach Mike Tomlin’s career. A loss on Sunday night to the Ravens would seal that losing season.

This time around, however, #NFLTheTVShow finally got wise and decided to flip this game to Sunday night, marking the first Sunday or Monday night game for the rivalry since 2013. Nobody knows why.

Without outside receivers, which the Ravens have never really had other than Steve Smith Sr. and Anquan Boldin, the offense is lethargic and boring and has made tight end Mark Andrews virtually nonexistent because opponents have no reason to cover anybody else. On top of everything else, without quarterback Lamar Jackson, the offense does not work.

There is frustration amongst the fanbase over Lamar’s growing absence, which was deemed predictable by critics from the start, as well as with the quarterback’s contract status. Harbaugh, though, is staying outwardly mum on the matter which is cause for even more wonder concerning Jackson’s availability and any frustration that might be present in the front office, although all reporting indicates Jackson has been present for all of the team’s practices and all of his scheduled treatments and rehab for his sprained knee, unlike last season when he missed four weeks to an injured ankle.

Harbaugh can be frustrating as well, particularly with some of his stubborn in-game decisions, such as last week when he decided to attempt a 55-yard field goal into a very high and strong wind rather than punt and further enhance the field position game against an offensively-challenged Atlanta Falcons team. He also had another ill-advised second-half challenge that, again, seemed to be hastened by stubbornness.

Yet, let’s not be silly or stubborn ourselves. Better yet, let’s not be stupid. The Baltimore Ravens would be very hard-pressed to do better than John Harbaugh as their head coach and it seems everybody within the organization that matters understands and appreciates this.

The same should be said about the Steelers and their head coach Mike Tomlin, although too many Steelers fans did not care for the hiring of Tomlin from the beginning due to what seems to be an obvious and sick reason, so we’ll just leave it at that.

Yet like Harbaugh, who has a .613 winning percentage and a Super Bowl title in 15 years, Tomlin, .633 and one Super Bowl title in 16 years, is one of the very best football coaches in the NFL. My goodness, just look at his 161-93-2 record. Yet, as someone recently said, if Mike Tomlin cured cancer this morning, there would be Steelers fans by lunch who would say he did it with Bill Cowher’s players.

Though we all have short and convenient memories as sports fans, Steelers fans had also had enough with four-time Super Bowl winning coach Chuck Noll in the final years of his Hall of Fame tenure; and in case anybody forgot, they also had it up to here (my hand is beneath my chin) with Cowher, who is now the Randolph Scott Blazing Saddles presence of Steelers Nation, as his name is always spoken in reverent and hushed tones.

And somehow, Cowher has found himself in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (that Tom Flores has not is a flat-out crime), yet was on the very hot seat with Steelers fans until his team finally reached a Super Bowl, then won one in his next to last season. Yet just as it was with the legend of John Madden, the blind perception is that Cowher won his last game in the Super Bowl, but, of course, that was not the case.

Yes, the Steelers, most importantly, are playing for the playoffs, but think about it: After 16-plus years they are also trying to avoid the first losing season in Tomlin’s run as head coach. That is just so impressive and so underappreciated, as Harbaugh, for instance, has experienced two losing seasons in his 15-plus with the Ravens, which is almost equally as impressive. But even the most ardent sports fans have convenient memories and a prevalent What Have You Done for Me Lately mentality.

That the Steelers are in the playoff hunt at all in the first transition year without Ben Roethlisberger is remarkable. Fans don’t want to consider that, though, as they think and live in the past. Almost as remarkable is that the Ravens are somehow 3-1 and already in the playoffs without an offense that works and without Lamar Jackson.

Somebody must be doing something right in both places. Fans would be wise to appreciate it while they have it. Tomlin and Harbaugh are two of the great ones, and they fit perfectly into the fabric of leading the very best rivalry in pro football and one of the best in all of sports.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT