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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens: Steelers Have Rare Chance to Bury Ravens Early in Season

The last two times the NFL has played games on Sept. 11, the Pittsburgh Steelers have played at Baltimore.

In 2011, they lost the season opener to the Ravens 35-7. They again play at Baltimore on the anniversary of 9/11 on Thursday night. The Steelers’ all-time record on Thursdays?

9-11

That record doesn’t begin to tell the tale of Thursday calamity that has haunted this franchise throughout its history.

Last year’s Footgate incident on Thanksgiving was just the latest installment in that saga.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was fined $100,000 for having his toe on the field and interfering with Ravens’ kick returner Jacoby Jones. The Steelers lost the game 22-20 and Tomlin was lampooned all the over Internet.

For some reason, the Steelers play at Baltimore on a Thursday night for the second straight year. The schedule makers must hate the Steelers. Every NFL team is obligated to play at least one Thursday game, but just like last year, the Steelers’ brutal Sunday-Thursday turnaround involves a trip to their most hostile road environment.

The Steelers (1-0) will try to win on Thursday for the first time since 2011 (but that was a hollow victory, more on that later). More importantly, they have an opportunity to push the Ravens (0-1) into an early-season sand trap that would be tough to shoot their way out of.

By beating the Ravens, the Steelers can go two games up on them, improve to 2-0 in the AFC North while dropping the Ravens to 0-2 in the division with all eight of their road games still in front of them. The Steelers also would have a chance to secure the head-to-head tiebreaker at home in Week 9.

This is like finding a brand spanking new, 72-inch flat-screen TV on the sidewalk with a “Free” sign taped to it.

Unfortunately, the Steelers don’t have a car to put it in.

It’s going to be difficult for the Steelers to take advantage of this windfall with a defense that couldn’t stop Brian Hoyer. Three days isn’t enough time for the Steelers to fix the problems that allowed the Cleveland Browns to erase a 27-3 deficit in the second half Sunday at Pittsburgh. If a quarterback who’s held more clipboards than footballs could do that at Heinz Field, imagine what Joe Flacco can do with Steve Smith at his disposal at home in prime time.

The Ravens mounted a comeback of their own Sunday. They trailed 15-0, then took a 16-15 lead only to lose 23-16 to the Cincinnati Bengals.

No Steelers lead will be safe, and their history in Thursday games does not suggest that they can steal this win and cash in the golden ticket they have in their hands. The Steelers had a penchant for Thursday infamy long before Tomlin stuck his toe on the field.

Here’s a look at some of their most epic Thursday defeats.

  • In 2009, they lost 13-6 at Cleveland to the 1-11 Browns. It was the last of five straight losses that wrecked the Steelers’ 6-2 start. They finished the season 9-7 and out of the playoffs.
  • A five-game losing streak also kept the Steelers out of the playoffs in 1998. This time, the skid began with a Thursday loss. It was the unforgettable Phil Luckett Coin Flip Game on Thanksgiving. Jerome Bettis tried to invent a word that sounded like both “heads” and “tails” (maybe it was “teds” or “hails”) and the Steelers lost 19-16 in overtime at Detroit. They were 7-4 entering that game and collapsed to finish 7-9.
  • The Steelers’ Thanksgiving pratfalls in Detroit didn’t begin with the Phil Luckett game. In 1983, the Lions broiled them like turkeys, 45-3. It was the third-most lopsided loss in franchise history.

Even some of the Steelers’ Thursday wins have come at a cost and essentially ruined seasons.

  • Their last Thursday victory came in 2011. They beat the Browns 14-3 at Heinz Field to improve to 10-3. But Ben Roethlisberger suffered a high-ankle sprain and wasn’t the same for the rest of the season. The Steelers settled for a wild-card spot in the playoffs and were bounced by Tim Tebow and the Broncos.
  • In 2009, the Steelers hosted the Thursday-night season opener as the defending Super Bowl champions. They beat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in overtime, but Troy Polamalu hurt his knee. He played in only five games that season, and the Steelers finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Considering the Steelers went to the Super Bowl the year before and the year after, and Polamalu was the AP Defensive Player of the Year in 2010, it’s tempting to wonder how far they could have gone with a healthy Polamalu in 2009.
  • In 2007, Willie Parker was leading the NFL with 1,316 rushing yards when he broke his leg on his first carry at St. Louis. The Steelers won this Thursday game 41-24 to improve to 10-5, but didn’t win again with Parker out for the season. They lost at home to Jacksonville in a wild-card playoff game.
If the Steelers can somehow reverse this Thursday jinx with a win and no debilitating injuries, it would leave the Ravens in a world of trouble.

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