OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens know they’re struggling at the wrong time of the season.
A three-game losing streak, an ever-growing list of injuries, and problems on both sides of the ball have caused the karma of a 9-2 start to disintegrate into a growing sense that they’re backing into the playoffs with two difficult games remaining and a 9-5 record. A change at the offensive coordinator position has created an even greater perception that the Ravens are a team in disarray.
But coach John Harbaugh’s message has been consistent over the last few weeks. And the words focusing on the big picture have been echoed throughout the Baltimore locker room.
“We’re going to do everything we can do and fight like crazy to become the team that we’re capable of becoming,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And we’re not that team yet. It’s a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us. And that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Even with the troubles surrounding the Ravens, the head coach is right. Contrary to the beliefs of many fans and media alike, Baltimore’s season isn’t over nor beyond repair. The Packers of 2010 and last year’s Giants are prime examples of that, even if the Ravens aren’t destined for the same championship track when 2012 is all said and done.
However, the focus cannot be on the accomplishment of making the playoffs for the fifth straight year or looking ahead to building on last season’s disappointment in Foxborough. Complacency can be a dangerous trap for a team that’s been so close to their ultimate goal of the Super Bowl in two of the last four seasons. To simply dwell on what could still happen in January while struggles in December are apparent comes across as dismissive or even cavalier if you discuss those goals too much.
Cautious optimism that injured players might return is acceptable, but viewing the return of Ray Lewis as the ultimate fix or holding optimism that Terrell Suggs can put forth a superman-like performance with a torn biceps doesn’t help the rest of the players on the roster. It only deflects the current problems and how to remedy them.
The Ravens also shouldn’t dwell on their poor play over the last three weeks. It’s true they fumbled the possibility of securing a first-round bye, but a division title and the ever-important home playoff game are only one victory away.
“There’s not really much you can do about the past,” quarterback Joe Flacco said. “You have to just live in the present and move forward, and I think that’s what we’re trying to do.”
The present is Sunday’s meeting with the New York Giants, a team in worse position than the Ravens after losing four of their last six games to put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy. For Baltimore, any discussions of the postseason or potentially resting starters in Week 17 or hoping to get injured starters back cloud what’s important for a team that should only be worrying about the now.
It’s about tabling the big picture and their biggest goals and dwelling on the simple task of winning one football game. Perhaps it’s channeling former head coach Brian Billick’s ban on using the word “playoffs” in the Ravens’ Super Bowl XXXV season or even borrowing a page from the 2012 Orioles after manager Buck Showalter trained his players to compartmentalize each game and series while the outside world wondered if they’d make their first trip to the playoffs in 15 years.
Injured safety Bernard Pollard didn’t seem interested in discussing the big picture or the Ravens’ ultimate goals before Wednesday’s practice. In his second year in Baltimore, Pollard has never been afraid to tell it like it is and his comments suggested the Ravens might be a little too comfortable with their current position.
“Everybody’s talking about [how] we’re in the playoffs,” Pollard said. “Who cares? The way we’ve played, who cares about the playoffs. With the way we’ve played, that’s going to carry over into the playoffs. And we don’t want that to happen. We have to come together.”
Even if the Giants are faced with a slimmer margin for error, the Ravens have to recapture that mentality where they feel as though there isn’t a next week or a second chance.
With so many factors working against them in recent weeks, they’d be well served in simplifying their approach by blocking out the past and the future. If not, the supremely-talented but inconsistent Giants will be ready to serve up the type of experience the Denver Broncos provided last week in embarrassing the Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.
“If you think that team is going to come in and lay an egg, we have our hands full,” running back Ray Rice said. “This team won the Super Bowl last year. They have a lot at stake.”