OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Jaylon Ferguson didn’t take long to adjust to the Ravens and Steelers rivalry.
Just a rookie, he’s already been told by coaches and players what to expect for his first matchup between the two AFC North rivals.
“It’s blood in the water and there’s sharks all around,” Ferguson said. “Except we’re the sharks. We going in there to eat.”
But Ferguson’s case is one of many for this week’s bout at Heinz Field, as notable faces from past rivalry games won’t be in the lineup.
Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown won’t be in the lineup, nor will Joe Flacco or Terrell Suggs. It will be both Lamar Jackson and Mason Rudolph’s first start in the rivalry.
Still, the dislike for each other runs deeper than the name on the back of a Ravens or Steelers uniform. No matter who suits up, it’s still one of the league’s best rivalries.
“Oh yeah, I don’t think that’s ever going to change,” Ronnie Stanley said. “No matter who’s playing for these colors, this rivalry is going to be one of the biggest rivalries in all of sports.”
One player who has seen many Ravens and Steelers games is Pernell McPhee, who played in Baltimore from 2011-2014.
After stints in Chicago and Washington, he’s back in Baltimore. And his hatred for Pittsburgh hasn’t gone away, either.
“It's like God versus the Devil,” McPhee said. “I don't know, but it's just the taste (of it). We respect them as men, but as a team, as an organization, me personally, I don't really care too much for them.”
Pernell McPhee doesn't mince words on how he feels about the rivalry. 😤 pic.twitter.com/kaRQqU6zyz— Baltimore Ravens (@Ravens) October 2, 2019
In McPhee’s first go-round as a Raven, the team went 5-3 against the Steelers in the regular season. In 2014, they won a playoff game in Pittsburgh, too.
There’s little room for catch-up, too, as so many new faces are having to catch up quickly.
After Tim Williams’ release on Tuesday, Ferguson figures to see an increase in snaps on Sunday. He doesn’t want to take the rivalry lightly, just because he hasn’t experienced it yet.
“It means a lot to everybody in this organization,” Ferguson said. “For me, coming into this organization just now, it should mean just as much to me. It does. It’s like our Super Bowl. I just got here, it’s just like the fifth game of the season, but it’s the Super Bowl for me.”
Sunday won’t be his first time on the sidelines against the Steelers - he was there last year as Flacco's backup.
But even then he took immediate notice of the kind of atmosphere the game can produce. He knows he'll have to face that crowd
“It was actually, for me, just being on the sideline and watching it,” Jackson said. “They play that little song [‘Renegade’], and they wave their little flags and stuff, with the little towels around. It was pretty dope. I enjoyed it. I did, I really did.”
Despite the lack of familiar faces, Sunday’s game is still remarkably important to each team in the early part of the season.
The Ravens are 2-2 and the Steelers are 1-3. Neither team can afford to fall much farther down in the AFC North and AFC standings, meaning that come Sunday night, some of the new faces on both sides might have the same hatred the old ones did.
“And there's nothing better after a game like that than to play this historic rivalry, I think the best rivalry in sports, this week,” defensive coordinator Don Martindale said. “...there aren’t the same players that have been here in the past, obviously, but the rivalry is the rivalry.”
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