On his first visit, they treated him like the newborn that he was.
They picked him up twice and sacked two others in a 30-13 beating. The Ravens, led by a dominant Ray Lewis and a rapidly rising Ed Reed, would end that season with the league’s sixth-best defense. Ben Roethlisberger was a 22-year-old rookie who relieved starter Tommy Maddox in the third quarter.
Despite the knots in him, his first dose of NFL action, Roethlisberger threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter. Even after this they did not stop coming.
In the years following that initial encounter in 2004, the Ravens faced the Roethlisbergers 26 times in the regular season and three times in the playoffs. His Steelers have won 18 of those meetings, including some of the most brutal, unpredictable, invigorating action of this NFL century. If Sunday’s game at M&T Bank Stadium is Roethlisberger’s last regular season bow – as he has said it probably will be – he could not finish in a more fitting spot, with both teams holding on to playoff hopes.
No player has come across as a more constant rival to the Ravens. In his prime, Roethlisberger was a horror-movie bogeyman in a No. 7 jersey, the man who couldn’t be dragged onto the field at crucial moments of the game. In later years, he became the respected voice of experience on the other side of an enduring feud. Sunday “Big Ben” Ravens won’t be the quarterback that haunted him a decade ago, but he beat him twice earlier this season and last year.
Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith, who has faced Roethlisberger since 2011, said, “The game is never over with that guy, until the last whistle.”
Like most long-running Ravens, Smith can pinpoint moments he’ll cherish – the December 2015 victory in which he stopped Roethlisberger and a 101-yard pick-six called back due to an offside penalty Was – and forget the ones he would like.
“He’s kicked our butts so many times,” Smith said. “And we’ve played some good games against him.”
It’s amazing how experienced defenders remember their first and best game against Roethlisberger. Outside linebacker Pernell McPhee retrieved a fumble in his NFL debut, which was a 28-point blow to the Steelers. But the second meeting of that 2011 season is one he will always cherish.
He was late for the team’s flight to Pittsburgh and then fell asleep in his hotel room, angering his positions coach, the late Clarence Brooks, who punched a hole in the wall. McPhee responded the next day with a half sack as the Ravens won on a last-minute touchdown catch by Torrey Smith.
“It was amazing,” he said. “The coach walked over to me, and then I went out there and bowled.”
McPhee remembers clearly in part because Roethlisberger was a unique, important opponent. Old teammates told him to make sure he was furious when he reached No. 7, “Leave your Ravens on your jersey.”
“He was like a giant tight end playing quarterback,” McPhee said. “You had to know how to sack him when you got to him, pinning both hands down. … That’s what made him so great, crazy to say but his ability to escape from the sack was far from over.” He had insane pocket awareness, insane upper body strength where he could throw you.”
Defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale has seen Roethlisberger lead such a comeback from the dead that he questioned whether the 39-year-old quarterback would actually retire.
“With Ben who knows?” Martindale said. “He’s like the Terminator. You think about the history of this sport and this rivalry, how many times he’s been hit. You can picture him as fans, as writers, as coaches. What they don’t show is whether he’s getting up and playing the next game or playing the next series. It’s incredible his resilience and his toughness. If there’s any fame to this game, he’s definitely on it Is. ”
He notes that even this version of Roethlisberger, which relies on quick releases more than zombie play extensions, has propelled the Steelers to a higher fourth-quarter mark than all but one other team. Seventeen of them won over the Ravens in Week 13 of Pittsburgh.
Combine the history of the Roethlisberger against the Ravens and you’ll get all kinds of games.
There were afternoons and nights when he was nearly perfect: 13-for-16 for 209 yards and five touchdowns in a 38-7 win in 2007, 25-37 for 340 yards and six touchdowns in a 43-23 win in 2014, 506 yards in a 39-38 thriller in December 2017.
On other occasions, the Ravens did better than him: two interceptions and nine sacks in the 2006 shutout, three interceptions and four sacks in the 35-7 blowout to start the 2011 season, two interceptions and five sacks in the 2015 playoff win. Pittsburgh.
However, a few games resulted in clear knockouts for both sides.
They resembled the December 2010 game, when Roethlisberger threw an interception in the second quarter, took three sacks, and broke his nose with an inadvertent swat from the Ravens’ defensive tackle Helotti Nagata, but still two second-half scoring drives. led to a forfeiture 13-10 comeback victory.
When Nagata was asked to name his favorite hit at his retirement news conference in 2019, he said: “Breaking Ben’s nose.” As laughter filled the auditorium, he quickly said: “I didn’t do it intentionally, but it kind of happened.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin recalled the same moment speaking to Pittsburgh reporters about the rivalry: “I often tell young people a story about time. [Ben] He broke his nose in Baltimore, and he turned to the side during the timeout and said, ‘How do I look?’ It is what it is.”
So it went into a never-ending battle between a proud defense and a quarterback who, at 6-foot-5, 240 pounds, was built like a linebacker.
“Make no mistake, this series is special because of the men who have played in it,” Tomlin said. “Boys like Ben pitted against his skills [Terrell] Sugs, people like Hines [Ward] Pitting your skills against Ed Reed. You could go on and on. That’s what makes this series. … it’s a story of men, of those gold-jacketed men, of people who have unique talents, but it goes beyond their unique talents.”
If Roethlisberger had a generational counterpart on the Ravens, it was the Suggs, who entered the league a year before them. It’s no coincidence that the Ravens called on their former defensive leader to return to Baltimore for Sunday’s finals matchup as “Legend of the Game.”
Suggs had the sack in Roethlisberger’s first game, but she was on Maddox. He eventually produced some signature games against his nemesis: two sacks in that 27-0 shutout in November 2006, three in a 35-7 beatdown to open the 2011 season. He still simmered with frustration after Roethlisberger slipped out of hand to lead the backbreaking comeback.
McPhee was struck by the cerebral war behind his performance. “They knew each other like brothers or cousins,” he said. “Suggs knew everything about him, all his hand signals, all his code words. He caught two pics on him, one in 2011 and one in 2014 – one that he caught between his legs – and he just knew ‘Big Ben’, the way he liked to change his calls, the play in which He loved to go. third down. ,
In later years, both men characterized their rivalry in respectful terms.
When the Steelers quarterback criticized his own game in a 2017 matchup, the Suggs jokingly accused him of attempting “Jedi mind tricks” on the Ravens.
The Ravens beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh in 2018 and exchanged the jerseys they signed with the Ravens last season.
Roethlisberger called the Suggs, who sacked him more than any other opponent, “one of the best I’ve ever played against.”
With Roethlisberger expected to join the Suggs in retirement after this season, will the Ravens-Steelers rivalry enter a different era?
Smith, who may also retire after this season, thinks so.
“There are only a few people left that Ben has played in our squad so many times,” he said. “I wouldn’t say it’s the end of the rivalry era, but it’s definitely the end of those big-name guys, and it has to start anew.”
Steelers @ Ravens
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Ch. 13, 9 radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM
Line: Ravens By 5