PITTSBURGH—Like just another random flock of tech-obsessed gamers, the Steelers will spend Sunday playing Angry Birds, but their hyper-specialized version promises to be a lot more painful.
We presume a high level of anger whenever the Baltimore Ravens and the Steelers convene. We presume a matchup of enraged defenses, of offenses trying to function amid their own barely controlled fury, of special teams just about certifiably psychotic. Yet, the issue of who starts the NFL season 1-0 in Baltimore won't likely boil down to which team is angrier.
"Who's angry, who's not, we all know that's irrelevant by game time," Mike Tomlin said Tuesday at his inaugural regular-season news conference. "The root of the matter is that you have two very good teams with the same intentions -- to dominate the AFC North and to put themselves in position to win the Lombardi [Trophy].
"It's two trains on a track. See you Sunday."
That should provide the Steelers global fan base some quantum of solace, because I can't believe the Ravens won't be the far angrier team when the 2011 division struggle begins in the broad daylight of Baltimore's inner harbor.
They're mad they can't beat the Steelers in the postseason (0-3). They're mad they can't beat Ben Roethlisberger (who has solved 'em seven times in a row). They're mad that their first mission of the new football year demands they measure themselves against a franchise they never seem to beat when it counts.
And, frankly, even now, I don't know how they can't be furious at themselves for blowing a 14-point halftime lead at Heinz Field in the AFC playoffs less than eight months ago.
On Jan. 15, the Steelers committed two turnovers, allowed six sacks, drew nine penalties totaling 93 yards and still beat these guys.
Head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, both light-headed from a 21-7 halftime lead on the road apparently, threw the ball around just recklessly enough afterward to invite three turnovers (two by Ryan Clark and a third by Brett Keisel) that Roethlisberger turned into a 24-21 lead. Subsequently, Anquan Boldin appeared to overturn that Steelers lead the second before he dropped a Joe Flacco pass in the end zone. Subsequently, the since departed T.J. Houshmandzadeh appeared to sustain Baltimore's desperate last-chance drive the second before he dropped Flacco's fourth-down conversion pass, which merely hit him right in the face.
No wonder when students of the Ravens research what it might take for this particular murder of crows to win a Super Bowl, veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs doesn't hesitate.
"It's going to take us not beating ourselves," he said as the Steelers came into focus. "A lot of games that we lost last year, a few in particular, we had won. Nobody but us let it get away."
Still, what worries Tomlin as the week's heavy lifting begins are the ways in which these Ravens have been re-feathered by general manager Ozzie Newsome, one of the best personnel men in the game.
Tomlin mentioned being "a little more uneasy than I usually am," at this point, even if some of the more conspicuous of Baltimore's additions -- wideout Lee Evans, running back Ricky Williams and offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, are nearing the edge of their NFL shelf life.
"The core guys are the same," said Tomlin, whose intentions include stretching his record on opening days to 5-0. "They understand what this matchup is about. I'm sure they're gonna educate the new men as to what this matchup is about."
Mostly it has been about two nearly perfectly matched teams clubbing each other into some small number of mistakes that prove fateful. The similarities between the 2010 Steelers and Ravens were so plentiful as to be almost eerie.
The Steelers averaged 23 points per game, the Ravens 22.
The Steelers averaged 18 first downs per game, the Ravens 19.
The Steelers averaged 32 minutes of possession time per game, the Ravens 31.