Everyone is questioning why the Baltimore Ravens would run a fake field goal up 41-7 against the Oakland Raiders Sunday. The game was over and Oakland had no chance of coming back. Baltimore had nothing to prove. Why call a trick play and run up the score?
The Ravens ran that play to send a message to their next opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Baltimore ran the same fake field goal against Pittsburgh on opening day in 2011. They know that the Steelers have not forgotten about it. Even if Pittsburgh has the Ravens wanted to remind them. The message that Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh was sending is simple, ‘We know that you’re next, Steelers. This is just to let you know that we are ready.’
The Ravens and Steelers have been rivals since Baltimore was the Cleveland Browns. The rivalry was intense when they were neighbors and has become more intense since the Ravens moved to Baltimore in 1996. In the last nine years they have battled for the AFC North crown. Baltimore has won it three times and Pittsburgh four. They have met in the playoffs twice with the Steelers winning in 2008 and 2010. The Steelers beat the Ravens three times in 2008. The Ravens won both battles in 2011.
At the moment this is probably the best rivalry in the NFL. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are mirror images of one another. Each organization is top notch. Both play tough, blue collar football. Neither believes in making excuses. Their fan bases expect them to play hard every week and beat opponents into submission. One could make the case that rule changes to promote player safety stemmed from how violent Ravens-Steelers games had become.
Even when Baltimore and Pittsburgh are not playing one another they have an eye out for each other. The Ravens know that the Steelers have kept them from where they want to go. Pittsburgh knows that Baltimore is always on their heels and trying to take the crown from them. This raises both teams’ level of play.
Harbaugh knew exactly what he was doing Sunday. He wanted the Steelers to see those 55 points that the Ravens put up on Oakland. He wanted them to see that fake field goal so that they know Baltimore is not going to take its foot off of the gas. Harbaugh was telling Pittsburgh that they are no longer the bully. It is the Ravens who own the North.
What Baltimore did Sunday had nothing to do with the Raiders. It had everything to do with the Steelers.
It was the Ravens sending a message to Pittsburgh that Baltimore is the superior team and the Steelers had better be ready Sunday.