The winner of Sunday night's showdown in Baltimore between the Steelers and Ravens, both 8-3, will own a clear path to the AFC North Division title. Yet all the buzz in Pittsburgh over the past two days has been about penalties, illegal hits and fines.
Even the Ravens were talking about how the NFL has targeted Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who has collected $125,000 in fines this season from the NFL for four hits.
"You got this guy, No. 92 over there. I think he's kind of red-flagged," Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said on Wednesday. "Referees are kind of looking for him to see if he breathes on the quarterback wrong. He might get a flag. I think there is definitely some injustice and I think that's where the game has went.
"I don't feel sorry for anybody. I do know they are looking at him more closely than they are looking at anybody else in the league. I think in the referee world they kind of red-flagged him."
The Steelers are up in arms not only because they believe the league has targeted Harrison, but they think officials also have been told to watch guard Chris Kemoeatu, who was called for four holding penalties in Buffalo on Sunday, and that the same officials are not doing enough to protect their own quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, for roughing.
Roethlisberger came out of Sunday's game with a sprained foot, and a sore knee that was injured when he was roughed up after a sack by Buffalo defensive end Marcus Stroud and linebacker Arthur Moats.
"I know our quarterback takes a lot of shots," linebacker James Farrior said. "He's banged up right now. I don't think they really do a great job of protecting him. I don't know what it is."
Harrison remains bewildered over the growing fines against him and how he's supposed to tackle.
"There's nothing malicious or illegal (about) the way I'm playing, the way I'm tackling guys, so I'm going to continue to play the game and let the chips fall where they may," Harrison said. "It's not like I'm hitting these guys or doing anything beyond the scope of the rules. Anything I do that may be even close to the border is going o be called."
Safety Ryan Clark, the Steelers' rep for the NFL Players Association, called a regional rep of the union to protest what he said the league is doing to Harrison.
"I'm definitely standing behind him as a rep," Clark said. "We definitely need some answers, just clarity of what they want. Every week it's a different explanation by the referees to the reason for the hit -- full body, lying on the guy or hitting the guy with the crown of your helmet or putting your facemask in his back. If I'm running down the back of a guy, which way do I turn to make sure my facemask doesn't hit him?"
Sunday night's winner will have another edge besides a one-game lead in the division with four to play. A Baltimore win would give the Ravens the top tiebreaker with two wins against Pittsburgh. A Steelers win, though, would give them the tiebreaker based on a better division record, provided they take care of their final two division games at home against Cincinnati the following Sunday and in Cleveland Jan. 2.
30th regular-season meeting, Steelers lead the series, 17-12, but it is dead even in Baltimore, 7-7. The Steelers also are 2-0 in post-season against the Ravens. Baltimore won in the fourth game of this season, 17-14, at Heinz Field when the Ravens scored a late touchdown to win it. The teams each won on the road in their two games last season.
Copyright (C) 2010 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.