There has been a common theme going around this week; in which many Ravens fans (and some media members) have assumed that should the Bills beat the Patriots early today to hand the Ravens the final Wild Card spot; John Harbaugh will pull some of his starters a bit early to keep them healthy for the playoffs.
Don’t count on it.
Remember back to December 2003; when the Ravens hosted the Steelers in the final week of the season needing either a win of a Bengals loss to clinch the division title and a spot in the playoffs. The Bengals DID lose that Sunday afternoon; and the Ravens still played all out Sunday night in pursuit of a win, even going to overtime to get the job done.
They didn’t just do that to try to help Jamal Lewis break Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record. They did it because Brian Billick knew he couldn’t look like a liar in the eyes of his players.
Throughout the week, Brian Billick had told his players not to care about what happened in the Bengals game. He told them to plan on the Bengals winning; and to treat the Steelers game as if it was the first game of the playoffs. He told them they only they held their destiny in their hands. As a coach, he had to motivate them to believe that Sunday night’s game was absolutely “must win”; even though there was a chance it might not be. John Harbaugh is in the same spot this week.
This week, John Harbaugh is telling his banged up players “we’re gonna need you Sunday.” He’s telling the guys who have been struggling that this is the most important game of their lives. He’s telling his team that the Patriots are going to win today; and that the game against the Jaguars is the first playoff game they’ll play this season.
If the Ravens take the field having already clinched; and John Harbaugh starts resting players; he will have been a liar. This will suddenly NOT have been the most important game of the season. This suddenly will NOT have been the first playoff game of the season. Brian Billick knew 5 years ago he couldn’t lie to his players; so they played all out in pursuit of a win. John Harbaugh knows the same thing today, and they’ll play the same way.
This goes for EVERYONE on the team. Even Derrick Mason. If Mason said to Harbaugh yesterday; “Coach, you’ve got my all”; Harbaugh cannot accept that Saturday and then Sunday say “Thanks but no thanks Derrick.”
The Ravens are playing this game as if it’s the biggest game they’ve ever played. They are playing to BEAT the Jaguars; no matter what happens before they take the field.