PITTSBURGH - Yes, there is hate. Steelers-Ravens has always featured that element in a rivalry that is as intense and passionate as any in the NFL. But there is another word that defines this matchup, too, a word that you heard from every one of the coaches and players who came out victorious in this latest matchup of AFC North foes.
You heard it from Ravens coach John Harbaugh after his team beat the Steelers, 30-17, at Heinz Field in the wild-card playoff round. You heard it from quarterback Joe Flacco, too. And even linebacker Terrell Suggs, who has generated plenty of heat in this competition with his play and his rhetoric.
The word: respect.
"This is a very special victory for us, because of who it comes against, a very respected rival," Harbaugh said.
Flacco, who had another signature playoff win -- his fifth in a row without an interception -- talked about how "awesome it is to come in here" and get a win over such a longstanding rival.
And Suggs, who had a game-clinching interception deep in Steelers territory in the fourth quarter, paid homage to a team he openly admits to despising.
"This rivalry is more heated because the identity of these two teams is clear," he said. "These two teams don't like each other, but there is a tremendous amount of respect just because of our style of football."
This was the fourth time the Ravens faced the Steelers in the postseason and the first time they won. After clinching a playoff berth on the final regular-season weekend by beating the Browns and seeing the Chargers lose to the Raiders, the Ravens played what might have been their finest game since winning Super Bowl XLVII two years ago.
The Ravens took advantage of a Steelers team that was without one of its best players. Running back Le'Veon Bell, who suffered a hyperextended knee in last week's regular-season finale against the Bengals, didn't practice all week and was ruled out of the game Friday. His absence meant quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had to shoulder a greater burden on offense and also meant there would be less balance to the Pittsburgh attack. The Steelers rushed for only 68 yards on 19 attempts.
Roethlisberger went 31-for-45 for 334 yards and a touchdown but also threw two fourth-quarter interceptions. The one by Suggs at the Steelers' 21 was followed by a touchdown pass from Flacco to seldom-used tight end Crockett Gillmore to increase the Ravens' lead to 30-15.
"Any time we turn the ball over, it's frustrating," Roethlisberger said. "That's why I want to apologize to the fans, my teammates, to the organization, the Rooneys and to the coaches. It's just frustrating and I wish that I could apologize individually to everybody."
Flacco, meanwhile, has 13 touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last five playoff games. He had 11 touchdown passes in the Ravens' four playoff victories two years ago.
"It's always good to come up here and play a good football game because it's an awesome place to play," Flacco said. "It's a tough place to play, and the reason for that is because these guys are a good football team. It's a tough place to play."
But Flacco had his way most of the night, going 18-for-29 for 259 yards and two touchdowns. The Ravens had only 49 rushing yards.
Now it's on to the Patriots for the Ravens, who beat New England two years ago in the AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium. Suggs hopes the Ravens can ruin the possibility of matchups that others might want to see. Such as another Peyton Manning-Tom Brady duel in the AFC Championship Game. Or perhaps a Patriots-Seahawks Super Bowl.
"We all know the matchup the NFL wants to see . . . for the sponsors," said Suggs, who declined to say just what that matchup is. "But we got faith in ourselves, in Ravens Nation, and let's see if we can disrupt some people's plans.''