OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With Christmas only several days away, John Harbaugh and the Ravens couldn’t help but be in a jovial mood on Tuesday morning after receiving an early gift.
Just 24 hours after watching his Ravens suffer the worst defeat in his four years as the head coach in Baltimore, Harbaugh watched his younger brother Jim’s San Francisco 49ers knock off Pittsburgh on Monday night to put the Ravens right back in position for the AFC North title and a first-round bye should they win their remaining two games against Cleveland and Cincinnati.
Even players such as quarterback Joe Flacco, who chose extra sleep instead of watching the Steelers lose, could see their head coach’s enthusiasm at first glance on Tuesday. It was quite a contrast to the solemn demeanor he held following the 34-14 beating at the hands of the San Diego Chargers
“He asked me, ‘Did you watch the game?’” Flacco said. “And I [said], ‘No, I didn’t watch it.’ He got flustered from there. He didn’t know where to go with it once I told him I didn’t watch the game, so he was a little confused. But you could definitely tell he was excited, and we should be.”
The outcome doesn’t erase what happened to the Ravens in San Diego, but it does allow them to feel better about themselves, now knowing they once again control their own destiny in potentially earning a much-needed week off and a home playoff game in the divisional round of the postseason.
Harbaugh sent a text message to his brother Jim following San Francisco’s 20-3 win and spoke to him more extensively on the phone Tuesday morning. The 49ers’ efforts dropped the Steelers to 0-3 against Harbaugh-coached teams this season and, more importantly, put them in a first-place tie with Baltimore, who owns the head-to-head tiebreaker after sweeping the regular-season series.
Even with the game’s direct effect on the Ravens’ playoff destiny, the elder Harbaugh focused more on the impressive performance by the 49ers and less on what it meant to the Ravens. The Baltimore coach even made reference the power difficulties that forced two delays at Candlestick Park on Monday night.
“Man, it was a fun game to watch,” Harbaugh said. “It was the night the lights went out in Candlestick, right? It was pretty cool, but they did a great job.”
Yes, the Ravens are feeling quite fortunate to be in a similar position to the one they enjoyed prior to the weekend. Despite no longer controlling the inside track for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, Baltimore can now assure itself of a postseason game at M&T Bank Stadium — where the Ravens are undefeated this season — with two wins to close the regular season.
And they owe it to the 49ers, whom the Ravens beat 16-6 in Baltimore on Thanksgiving night.
“They did us [a favor],” running back Ray Rice said. “I guess that’s what brothers do; they look out for each other.”
Despite the reversal of fortunes, linebacker Terrell Suggs offered a cautious reaction to the news from San Francisco. After proclaiming the Ravens were back in playoff “hell” and owned a vacation home in the red-hot establishment following the embarrassing loss to the Chargers, the star defensive player was not ready to proclaim his team to be saved.
“I think we’re still there,” Suggs said. “Like I said, these last two games, you drop it, you go from one place to another. We still have the lease on the vacation home, but hopefully, we don’t have to go there this year. We’ve just got to take care of business. We’re playing two teams that know us very well, two division foes, so it’s going to be interesting.”
The 29-year-old linebacker is absolutely right. The Ravens will now need to make an early New Year’s resolution to protect their early Christmas present.
As Harbaugh explained on Tuesday, nothing about the Ravens’ mission over the final two weeks of the regular season changed with the 49ers’ victory, but it did improve their wounded mindset in knowing they hadn’t kissed their ideal playoff positioning goodbye.
“We have to control what we have to control,” Harbaugh said. “And the beauty of that is, we can control a lot. We can control how we play, and we can control the outcome of these games.”
And thanks to Jim Harbaugh and the 49ers, they can once again manage where they’ll be playing to begin the playoffs.
INJURY UPDATE: The Ravens did not release an official injury report following Tuesday’s indoor practice that was conducted without helmets or pads. Defensive end Cory Redding (ankle) and kicker Billy Cundiff (left calf) were not present during the portion of practice open to the media. However, linebacker Ray Lewis (toe) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (toe) were both present and involved in the light workout.
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