OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have played their cards close to the vest when it comes to their plans for veteran linebacker Ray Lewis and his improbable comeback.
If Monday was any indication, we should expect much of the same this week as they turn their sights toward a wild-card meeting with the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday. Lewis began practicing on Dec. 5 and was moved from injured reserve to the 53-man roster last week but hasn’t played in a game since tearing his right triceps on Oct. 14.
Asked what it would take for Lewis to finally return to game action this Sunday, Harbaugh offered no indication whether he expected the 37-year-old to play against Indianapolis. However, it’s difficult to envision the 17th-year linebacker not giving it a go with Sunday potentially being his last game in Baltimore.
“It will take me not putting his name on a piece of paper for the [inactives], and you will find out an hour-and-a-half before the game whether or not that takes place,” Harbaugh said. “It’s all going to be a game-time decision as far as anybody knows. That’s where we’re at. This is the playoffs.”
The Ravens have been more tight-lipped than usual in recent weeks regarding their slew of injuries, and it will only get worse as Harbaugh tries to keep their plans under wraps.
Sixteen players were listed on last week’s injury report and six starters were ruled inactive for the final regular-season game.
“We’re not talking about injuries, we’re not talking about activations,” Harbaugh said. “We really don’t care what you or anybody else thinks about that — as much as we love you — and we’re getting ready to play a football game.
Critics question whether Harbaugh’s tactics — which are, in fairness, becoming more common across the league — really provide any tangible advantage over opponents, but the Baltimore coach was unconcerned with anyone questioning him on Monday.
“I don’t think it really matters,” said Harbaugh when asked if the team truly benefited from hiding injury information. “I think that’s what we’re doing.”
No more shenanigans
Asked to revisit a pair of frustration penalties committed against Bengals rookie linebacker Vontaze Burfict, Harbaugh offered an understanding tact but a matter-of-fact stance in responding to fouls committed by running back Ray Rice and guard Bobbie Williams.
The Ravens committed 10 for 102 yards in Week 17 and finished 31st in the league with 111 penalties this season.
“We don’t need any of that. We don’t need any penalties,” Harbaugh said. “We certainly don’t need any post-snap shenanigans. I don’t care what they do. I don’t care what they say. We don’t need a flag thrown. [We need to] be smart enough to make sure the flag is thrown on the other guy. It’s just that simple.”
In the first quarter, Rice was flagged for unnecessary roughness after pushing Burfict to the ground following a chop block and said after the game the rookie linebacker talked trash throughout the day.
“Ray was trying to finish a block. I thought it was more of an aggressive foul than anything else,” Harbaugh said. “I would counsel him not to do that in the future, but he felt like the play was still on. He didn’t know the play was over; he thought he was getting up to go rush the passer. Not that we excuse that. We don’t want any personal foul penalties.”
Williams’ infraction occurred in the second quarter when he retaliated after Burfict kicked him, according to the veteran offensive lineman. It was an uncharacteristic moment for the 36-year-old, who is regarded as one of the nicest guys in the Baltimore locker room.
“There wasn’t much there, but there was enough to be called, obviously, because it was called,” Harbaugh said. “We counseled him not to get involved in any of that.”
With seven head coaches receiving their walking papers on what’s become the annual “Black Monday” around the NFL, Harbaugh saw his good friend and mentor Andy Reid join the list of dismissed after 14 seasons as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles.
Harbaugh and Reid spent nine years together as the former served as the Eagles’ special teams coordinator for eight seasons and secondary coach in 2007 before being hired to become the third head coach in the history of the Ravens on Jan. 18, 2008.
Joining Reid on the unemployment line were Chicago’s Lovie Smith, San Diego’s Norv Turner, Arizona’s Ken Whisenhunt, Cleveland’s Pat Shurmur, Kansas City’s Romeo Crennel, and Buffalo’s Chan Gailey.
“The toughest thing is on the families,” Harbaugh said. “As coaches, we all understand the nature of the business. Players, too, understand the nature of it. That’s part of the challenge, but it’s hard on families. It’s hard on kids who have to change schools, pick up and move and start in other cities and things like that. That’s what you feel for the most, and that’s kind of where your prayers go out towards.”
Of the seven coaches fired on the day after the conclusion of the 2012 regular season, three were hired — and have now been dismissed already — after Harbaugh took the Baltimore coaching job.
DeCosta staying put
In what should come as no surprise, teams have already contacted the Ravens with requests to interview assistant general manager Eric DeCosta regarding potential openings.
However, the longtime Ravens executive isn’t going anywhere. DeCosta was awarded a long-term, high-priced contract last year and is the heir apparent to general manager Ozzie Newsome in Baltimore. The Ravens reaffirmed that reality once again on Monday.
“I love being a part of the Ravens and plan to stay here and help them win championships,” DeCosta said in an official statement released by the Ravens. “I have no intentions of leaving this team.”