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Ravens seize first place in AFC North, aiming for first division title since 2012

Posted on 23 December 2018 by Luke Jones

After securing their biggest December victory in a long time on Saturday, the Ravens finally got some help in their quest for the postseason.

With Pittsburgh falling at New Orleans on Sunday, Baltimore took over first place in the AFC North and will secure its first division championship since 2012 with a win over Cleveland next Sunday. The Ravens (9-6) would also clinch a division title if the Steelers (8-6-1) lose to Cincinnati, but John Harbaugh’s team would be eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Browns and a Pittsburgh victory over the Bengals. In the unlikely event of a Ravens tie and a Steelers win — leaving both teams with the same record — Pittsburgh would win the division because of a better division record.

Baltimore is seeking its first trip to the playoffs since 2014.

The start of next Sunday’s tilt against Baker Mayfield and the Browns at M&T Bank Stadium was moved to 4:25 p.m. as part of the NFL’s Week 17 flexible scheduling to feature the matchups with playoff implications more prominently. The Steelers-Bengals game will also kick off at 4:25 at Heinz Field.

The Ravens currently hold the No. 4 seed in the AFC and would have a home rematch with the Los Angeles Chargers if the playoffs were to begin today, but an unlikely path to a first-round bye — and the No. 2 seed — still exists if New England were to fall at home to the New York Jets and Houston were to lose at home to Jacksonville in Week 17. Baltimore would rise to the No. 3 spot with a win and a single loss by the Patriots or Texans.

According to the New York Times playoff simulator, the Ravens currently hold a 77-percent chance of winning the AFC North and a seven-percent chance of earning a first-round bye.

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With biggest December win in years, Ravens can now be called contenders

Posted on 23 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The plot points were there for the same old story to play out for the Ravens on Saturday night.

They had dominated the Los Angeles Chargers in the first half, but an offense that had produced 223 yards — 119 on the ground — netted only six points by halftime after going 0-for-3 inside the red zone.

Lamar Jackson’s 68-yard touchdown pass to fellow rookie Mark Andrews and Justin Tucker’s 56-yard field goal created a 16-10 lead with just over 20 minutes to play, but the Ravens would go three-and-out on their next three possessions, gaining a total of eight yards. That newfound formula of running the ball and controlling the clock was nowhere to be found as the first 10 rushes of the second half produced only 21 yards and the Ravens possessed the ball for less than 12 minutes.

When Sam Koch’s punt from his own end zone was returned 24 yards by Desmond King to the Baltimore 39, the stage was set for eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers on a short field with three minutes to go. A defense that had dominated throughout the night would need one more stop to keep the Ravens’ playoff hopes alive.

We knew how this movie ended in Pittsburgh on Christmas two years ago and against Cincinnati last New Year’s Eve, not to mention other late-game failures that have factored into the Ravens missing the playoffs in four of the last five years. Only two weeks ago, a fourth-and-9 miracle from Patrick Mahomes to Tyreek Hill with under two minutes to go thwarted an upset bid in Kansas City.

Another commendable effort with a “yeah, but…” attached.

“We’ve had our backs to the wall all year,” head coach John Harbaugh told his team in the post-game locker room in Carson, California. “For whatever reason, we’ve been fighting our ass off, but we haven’t been able to punch through.”

Those words came after linebacker Patrick Onwuasor punched the ball out from future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates and slot cornerback Tavon Young returned the fumble 62 yards for a touchdown to give the Ravens a 22-10 lead. Several plays later, top corner Marlon Humphrey sealed Baltimore’s biggest December win in years with an end-zone interception.

The rookie Jackson and a unique run-heavy offense have understandably dominated the headlines since the bye week, but a top-ranked defense pressured Rivers relentlessly with four sacks and eight quarterback hits, held Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon to 54 total yards, and bottled up Keenan Allen and other Chargers receivers in coverage. It was as dominant as a Ravens defense had looked in a critical game — for a full 60 minutes — in a long, long time.

And with that victory, the Ravens can now be considered contenders — while understanding they still need to take care of business next week. It was nearly 10 years ago to the day that the Ravens and a rookie quarterback visited the favorite Dallas Cowboys needing a Week 16 win to keep their playoff hopes alive. That team won and was playing in the AFC Championship four weeks later. The Ravens will hardly be Super Bowl favorites if they do qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2014, but taking the mighty Chiefs to overtime in Kansas City and dominating the Chargers — considered the latest darling in the AFC — will force teams to take notice.

What perhaps made the win more impressive was how far from perfect the Ravens were. Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn deemed it a “miracle” that his team even had a chance at the end after being “outcoached” and “outplayed” on Saturday night. The Ravens never got into their second-half formula that’s worked so well while winning five of the last six games, but Jackson’s beautiful touchdown strike came moments after the game appeared to be slipping away with Kenneth Dixon’s fumble and a quick Los Angeles touchdown to start the second half.

Yes, the offense should have done much more in that first half, making for a glass half-empty or half-full proposition. But the defense did it all, flashing a championship quality that’s been absent from the good statistical units of recent years by slamming the door on the Chargers’ final opportunity.

It’s a group composed of notable names still productive but past their prime, a Pro Bowl inside linebacker whose greatness is still debated, a potential future star in Humphrey, and a number of solid-to-good players who complement each other well. Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has deployed that depth so effectively as Rivers — a future Hall of Famer arguably having his best season — became Baltimore’s latest victim on Saturday.

How far might the Ravens be able to go in January?

That question should wait another week, but their biggest victory in years spoke for itself on Saturday night. Anything is possible after changing the ending for which we all were bracing as Onwuasor stripped the ball and Young scooped and scored.

“We’re still not punched through,” added Harbaugh in his post-game speech, referring to next week’s tricky contest with Baker Mayfield and a much-improved Cleveland team. “We’ve still got one more win to get punched through.”

The difference is you now expect the Ravens to do it.

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Ravens-Chargers: Inactives and pre-game notes

Posted on 22 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens’ path to an AFC wild card took another hit Saturday before their critical contest against the Los Angeles Chargers.

With Tennessee beating Washington earlier in the day, Baltimore needs a win to remain in wild-card contention. A loss would leave the Ravens needing Pittsburgh to lose its last two games to give them the opportunity to still win the AFC North with a Week 17 win over Cleveland. In other words, John Harbaugh’s team needs a win.

The biggest surprise among the Ravens’ inactives was running back Buck Allen being a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Versatile running back Ty Montgomery was deactivated last week, but he is active for Week 16, joining starter Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon in the backfield rotation.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) is officially inactive and will miss his third straight game, meaning veteran James Hurst or rookie Bradley Bozeman will start at left guard. The pair rotated at the position in last week’s win over Tampa Bay.

In bigger news, Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen is active after being listed as questionable on the final injury report. The Pro Bowl wideout suffered a hip pointer in a Week 15 Thursday game, but the extra rest helped in his recovery as he was able to practice on a limited basis by the end of the week.

Los Angeles also welcomes back Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon after a three-game absence due to a knee injury. Backup running back Austin Ekeler (neck) is inactive after being listed as doubtful.

The referee for Saturday’s game is Clete Blakeman.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for clear skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and no chance of precipitation.

The Ravens are wearing white jerseys with white pants while Los Angeles dons navy blue jerseys and navy blue pants for Week 16.

Saturday marks the 12th all-time regular-season meeting between these teams with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 against Baltimore in San Diego, but this marks the first game between these teams since the former’s move to Carson.

Below are Saturday’s inactives:

BALTIMORE
QB Robert Griffin III
WR Jordan Lasley
LB Tim Williams
G Alex Lewis
RB Buck Allen
DL Zach Sieler
FB/DL Patrick Ricard

LOS ANGELES
RB Austin Ekeler
RB Troymaine Pope
C Cole Toner
TE Sean Culkin
WR Dylan Cantrell
DE Anthony Lanier
DT T.Y. McGill

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Ravens-Chargers: Five predictions for Saturday night

Posted on 21 December 2018 by Luke Jones

Anything short of a win over the Los Angeles Chargers will leave the Ravens needing something close to a Christmas miracle to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

A victory won’t come easy as Baltimore will be playing the most balanced team in the conference that still has much to play for itself with the AFC West and home-field advantage still up for grabs. The Chargers certainly present the biggest defensive test the Ravens’ revamped offense will have encountered since the bye week.

Frankly, this is the kind of game John Harbaugh’s team just hasn’t won in December in the post-Super Bowl XLVII era with several commendable efforts ending in heartbreak.

It’s time to go on the record as these AFC teams meet for the 12th time in the all-time regular-season series with the Ravens holding a 6-5 advantage. The Chargers were 4-3 playing Baltimore in San Diego, but the Ravens are 3-2 against them in the John Harbaugh era with the last meeting being a 29-26 Ravens win at M&T Bank Stadium in 2015.

Below are five predictions for Saturday:

1. John Brown will catch a long touchdown. Lamar Jackson is a limited passer right now despite his electrifying mobility that’s helped the Ravens to this point. However, the one area of the field where Jackson has had success is the short middle (under 15 yards through the air) where he’s posted a 98 passer rating and completed 77 percent of his attempts, per SharpFootballStats.com. The problem is the Chargers defense has been very effective in that area, ranking first in Football Outsiders’ DVOA metric against short passes and first against tight ends. However, the Chargers rank last in DVOA against deep passes over 15 yards in the air. Jackson is due to connect on a long one, and opportunities will be there.

2. Chargers running back Melvin Gordon will collect 125 total yards and a touchdown with much damage coming on passes. Los Angeles went 3-0 without the Pro Bowl running back, which speaks to how deep this offense is. The returning Gordon is averaging 5.2 yards per carry, but the biggest challenge he presents against a superb run defense is his ability to make plays as a receiver out of the backfield. Two weeks ago, Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes completed 10 passes to running backs in an effort to offset Baltimore’s pass rush, and I expect Philip Rivers to do the same. The difference is Gordon is more dangerous in the open field than any of the Chiefs’ current backs.

3. The Ravens will be held under 160 rushing yards for the first time since Week 9. This ground game is too good to be completely shut down at this point, especially with Greg Roman’s reputation for consistently adding new wrinkles. However, the Chargers do possess the best run defense the Ravens have seen since before the bye, and rookie safety Derwin James is the type of player who just might be able to bottle up Jackson more than previous teams could. The Chiefs held Baltimore to an ordinary 3.6 yards per carry after being gashed in the first quarter, which is why it’s critical for the Ravens to grab an early lead while the Chargers adjust to the shock of Jackson’s speed and this run game.

4. Los Angeles edge rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will combine for three sacks. Bosa and Ingram will give Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. problems, but how they hold the edge will be crucial this week with Jackson’s ability to run. Meanwhile, Terrell Suggs and Matt Judon will try to get to Rivers, but the veteran has the ninth-fastest average time to throw from snap to release in the NFL and will use quick passes to Keenan Allen, who poses a challenge in the slot. The short week is also a factor as Judon has nursed a minor knee injury and Suggs was already quiet against Tampa Bay after playing a season-high 70 snaps in Kansas City. The Ravens need pressure from Za’Darius Smith inside.

5. More balance and extra rest will be the difference for the Chargers as the Ravens fall 26-17. I don’t believe this is a bad matchup for Baltimore as Marlon Humphrey and Jimmy Smith have enough size to combat the tall Los Angeles receivers, but I’m not confident enough in a one-dimensional offense producing enough points to offset the times when the Ravens defense is unable to get stops like we saw in the fourth quarter and overtime in Kansas City. The Chargers haven’t been held under 20 points in a game all season, and the revamped Ravens haven’t shown the ability to score into the high 20s without at least one touchdown from the defense or special teams. A cross-country trip on a short week also does veterans and a rookie quarterback no favors. It will be a close one throughout, but a late fourth-quarter touchdown pass from Rivers to Allen will put the game away for the Chargers and leave the Ravens scoreboard watching for the rest of the weekend.

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Ravens list four players as questionable for Chargers game

Posted on 20 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are as healthy as they could reasonably hope to be going into Week 16 and their biggest game of the season.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee), tight end Nick Boyle (concussion), defensive back Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), and guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) are all listed as questionable for Saturday’s contest against the Los Angeles Chargers, but Lewis was the only player not to practice fully on Thursday. After being cleared from the concussion protocol, Boyle appears likely to play, which is a positive development with his significant blocking role in Baltimore’s rush-heavy offense.

“He’s progressing well, and we’ll just have to see,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “I think it’ll be a little bit of a decision on Saturday — maybe today — to see how he gets through the practice and everything [and] see how he feels.”

Levine was a full participant after missing practice on Tuesday and Wednesday as he’s nursed a nagging ankle issue for several weeks.

The Chargers are also getting healthy at the right time as Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon (knee) wasn’t included in the final game status report after practicing fully all week. Gordon will be making his return after a three-game absence and could present a matchup problem as a receiver out of the backfield as he’s caught 44 passes for 453 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games this season. The fourth-year back has rushed for nine touchdowns and has averaged 5.2 yards per carry in 2018.

Los Angeles hopes to have Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen back on the field, another significant development for Saturday’s game. The 6-foot-2 target suffered a hip pointer in last week’s win at Kansas City, but he was able to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday and Thursday and was designated as questionable. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Allen is expected to play and has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns once again serving as Philip Rivers’ favorite target.

According to Weather.com, the Saturday night forecast in Carson, California calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low 60s with winds five to 10 miles per hour and only a slight chance of precipitation.

Below is the final injury report of the week:

BALTIMORE
QUESTIONABLE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
OUT: TE Sean Culkin (back)
DOUBTFUL: RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
QUESTIONABLE: WR Keenan Allen (hip)

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Ravens looking healthy while Chargers receiver Allen returns to practice

Posted on 19 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Only one Ravens player missed Wednesday’s practice for a health-related reason, but a significant injury-related development came on the other side of their Week 16 showdown.

Just a day after Los Angeles Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said wide receiver Keenan Allen could be a game-time decision on Saturday, the Pro Bowl selection returned to the practice field. Allen suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City, but his limited participation in the middle of the week would indicate him having a good chance to play against Baltimore. The 26-year-old has caught 88 passes for 1,074 yards and six touchdowns this season.

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon (knee) practiced fully for the second straight day as he prepares to return to action for the first time since Week 12. Meanwhile, backup running back Austin Ekeler remains sidelined with a neck injury and concussion.

Ravens defensive back Anthony Levine missed practice for the second straight day with toe and ankle ailments, but the veteran was spotted running and doing agility work on the side field with a member of the training staff during the portion of practice open to media. Outside linebacker Matt Judon (knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) returned to practice on a limited basis on Wednesday.

Guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) was a limited participant for the second straight day.

Below is Wednesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), G Marshal Yanda (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), G Alex Lewis (shoulder)
FULL PARTICIPATION: CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: WR Keenan Allen (hip)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Judon, Boyle absent from Ravens practice on Tuesday

Posted on 18 December 2018 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens were without two starters as they returned to the practice field ahead of Saturday night’s critical tilt with the red-hot Los Angeles Chargers.

Outside linebacker Matt Judon (left knee) and tight end Nick Boyle (concussion) did not participate in Tuesday’s indoor walk-through session. Both players sustained their injuries during Sunday’s win over Tampa Bay, but Judon was able to return to action.

It remains unclear when exactly Boyle sustained the concussion, but he didn’t play in the second half as fellow third-year tight end Maxx Williams and rookies Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst picked up the slack. Boyle is regarded as a key cog in Baltimore’s run-blocking schemes that have helped produce 190 or more rushing yards in five straight games, the first time an NFL team has done that since 1976.

“I can’t give Maxx enough credit,” head coach John Harbaugh said on Monday. “For Maxx to step in and not have any drop-off, and then Hayden and Mark came in and blocked really well. You obviously saw that. To me, it’s one of those unsung things that people don’t see. Those two guys stepped it up; they really did. We have a lot of depth.”

Defensive back Anthony Levine was also absent from Tuesday’s walk-through as he is now nursing a toe ailment in addition to the ankle issue that’s limited him in practices for several weeks.

Left guard Alex Lewis (shoulder) returned to practice on a limited basis and is trying to avoid missing a third consecutive game.

The Chargers don’t yet know whether Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen will play on Saturday after he suffered a hip pointer in the Week 15 win over Kansas City last Thursday. However, Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon was a full participant on Tuesday and is expected to return after a three-game absence with a knee injury.

“Keenan could be a game-time decision,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said in a conference call with Baltimore reporters. “It just depends on how sore his hip is.”

Below is Tuesday’s injury report:

BALTIMORE
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: TE Nick Boyle (concussion), LB Matthew Judon (knee), DB Anthony Levine (toe/ankle), CB Jimmy Smith (non-injury), LB Terrell Suggs (non-injury), S Eric Weddle (non-injury)
LIMITED PARTICIPATION: G Alex Lewis (shoulder)

LOS ANGELES
DID NOT PARTICIPATE: WR Keenan Allen (hip), TE Sean Culkin (back), RB Austin Ekeler (neck)
FULL PARTICIPATION: RB Melvin Gordon (knee), NT Brandon Mebane (non-injury)

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Even with win, Ravens see playoff margin for error shrink in Week 15

Posted on 17 December 2018 by Luke Jones

The Ravens handled their business with a 20-12 win over Tampa Bay to maintain control of the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoff race on Sunday.

The problem was no other results falling favorably in their quest to return to the postseason for the first time since 2014, making Saturday’s trip to Los Angeles to take on the red-hot Chargers close to a must-win affair. You can thank losing efforts by New England, Dallas, and the New York Giants for Baltimore’s margin for error all but evaporating in Week 15.

Players in the post-game locker room were split on whether they’d watch Pittsburgh’s late-afternoon clash with the Patriots as a Steelers loss would have given the Ravens the lead in the AFC North. However, Mike Tomlin’s team snapped its three-game losing streak to remain in first place and broke a five-game slide against New England with a 17-10 win. With the Steelers traveling to New Orleans in Week 16 and hosting last-place Cincinnati in the season finale, the Ravens need to win their final two games at the Chargers and at home against Cleveland to have any realistic hope of winning their first division title since 2012.

While many were focused on the happenings at Heinz Field, Indianapolis and Tennessee both registered wins to improve to 8-6, decreasing Baltimore’s chances of securing a wild-card spot with a 9-7 record. With the Colts hosting the 5-9 Giants and the Titans hosting a 7-7 Washington team down to its third-string quarterback next weekend before meeting each other in Week 17, one of those AFC South teams appears likely to finish 10-6.

What does that mean?

The Ravens could desperately use their first victory over a team with a winning record since Week 6 when they take on Philip Rivers and the Chargers. Barring an unlikely sequence of events, there will be no backing into the playoffs for John Harbaugh’s team, which is probably fair since Baltimore currently owns the worst strength of victory (.415) among the remaining AFC playoff contenders. If the Ravens can’t beat a playoff-caliber team in December, do they really deserve to play into January?

The good news is the Ravens are almost guaranteed to make the playoffs with a 10-6 record as either the division winner or the second wild card.

“I think the thing that plays in our favor is all we have to do is win and we should be in,” said cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who shined in Sunday’s win with an interception and four pass breakups. “It definitely feels good, and I feel like the team, we all were on board to get this one. Next, we have the Chargers.”

Below are the Ravens’ playoff scenarios entering Week 16:

* Baltimore is eliminated from the AFC North race with a loss to the Chargers and a Pittsburgh win.

* Baltimore is eliminated from AFC wild-card contention with a loss and wins by Indianapolis and Tennessee.

* Baltimore is eliminated from postseason contention with a loss to the Chargers and wins by Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Indianapolis.

* Baltimore cannot clinch a playoff berth in Week 16.

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Sunday off proves fruitful for Ravens’ playoff hopes

Posted on 12 November 2018 by Luke Jones

The status of injured quarterback Joe Flacco may have dominated the weekend conversation, but a Sunday off still proved fruitful for the Ravens and their playoff hopes as they return to work this week.

Losses by Cincinnati and Miami left Baltimore only one game out of the final AFC wild-card spot, an encouraging development as John Harbaugh’s team tries to rebound from its current three-game losing streak after a week of rest. The Bengals were particularly miserable in their 51-14 home defeat to New Orleans and will travel to M&T Bank Stadium in Week 11 after allowing an NFL-record 2,117 yards over their last four games — three of them losses. The Ravens learned firsthand a few weeks ago how impressive the Saints are, but Cincinnati playing so poorly coming off its bye should serve as a morale boost for other AFC teams vying for the No. 6 spot the Bengals are currently occupying.

After falling at Green Bay, the Dolphins enter their bye week having lost five of their last seven to erase the good vibes of a 3-0 start. And despite advancing to last year’s AFC Championship and still being considered dangerous on paper, Jacksonville may have seen its fate all but sealed Sunday after sustaining a fifth consecutive loss in a 29-26 final at Indianapolis to fall to 3-6.

The news wasn’t all positive, however, as Tennessee pulled off a surprising 34-10 blowout win over New England to move a full game ahead of Baltimore. Of course, the Ravens own a head-to-head tiebreaker with the 5-4 Titans, who will now play back-to-back road games against the Colts and AFC South-leading Houston.

Their 29-26 win over the Jaguars gave the Colts a third straight victory and officially made them a team of interest in the wild-card race. Indianapolis plays its next two games at home against the Titans and Dolphins, but the Ravens have the superior conference record at the moment to keep them ahead in the wild-card standings.

Of course, none of this means much if the Ravens don’t win their next two home games against the defense-challenged Bengals and hapless Oakland to get themselves back above .500 ahead of a daunting December featuring road games at Atlanta, Kansas City, and the Los Angeles Chargers. A loss in either of these next two games will shift all focus to the organization’s future and anticipated changes.

Below is a look at the AFC wild-card standings at the end of Week 10:

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Chapter 13: The Legend of 4th and 29

Posted on 24 January 2018 by Nestor Aparicio

 

 

 

 

“It’s the greatest play I have ever seen.”

– John Harbaugh (November 25, 2012)

 

 

FIVE DAYS AWAY FROM FOOTBALL was just what the doctor ordered as far as everyone in the building was concerned. The bye week couldn’t have come at a better time, almost exactly in the middle of the season. As much as the players use the down time to get away, see their families, go “home” – wherever that might be in 53 directions – the coaches used the final three weekdays of the week without a game to do what they call “self scouting.”

The NFL schedule is meat grinder, where the games happen Sunday; Monday and Tuesday are game-planning installment days; Wednesday, Thursday and Friday are practices days; and Saturday means walk-through and a plane ride every other weekend. There are no off days for NFL coaches once training camp begins in late July. The fan in Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti always marvels at the level of commitment of football coaches, who he’s said work more than any other category of business he’s ever seen.

And although the Ravens began the season 5-2, there was plenty of “self scouting” to be done and bad habits that they’d like to see their team break especially in light of the meltdown in Houston.

Cam Cameron’s offense had been sputtering week to week, depending on location and opponent. What worked so flawlessly against Cincinnati, New England, and Dallas – the “sugar huddle” tempo, spreading the ball around, creating holes for Rice and time for Flacco to throw – seemed like a distant memory in light of the poor Kansas City and Houston footage. After five years of trying to find more consistency, the Ravens still didn’t know what they were getting on any given Sunday, especially on the road when Mr. Hyde showed up far too often.

On defense, Pees was trying to evaluate combinations and schemes that would serve the personnel he currently had at his disposal, which was far different than the unit that stifled the Bengals eight, long weeks ago. Frankly, the Ravens didn’t have much to be proud of in regard to defensive statistics or categories. They weren’t stopping the run at all. They weren’t rushing the passer. They weren’t tacking particularly well. And without a pass rush and with Webb out and Reed gambling and guessing even more than usual, Romo and Schaub – a pair of legitimate top-shelf NFL quarterbacks – picked the secondary apart, especially running across the middle of the field where the Ravens’ linebackers were sub-par in coverage.

As the Ravens prepared to convene on Monday, October 29th, a monster storm was threatening the East Coast, which would impact millions of people over the next few days and weeks. Hurricane Sandy also took its toll on the organization that week as players scrambled to get back to Baltimore amidst altered flights, long drives, and chaos. Special teamer Sean Considine got stuck at the Chicago airport with his four small children. He and his wife had triplets who were toddlers and a 4-year old. Arthur Jones got stranded in Dallas. Terrell Suggs re-routed a flight into Raleigh and drove seven hours on Sunday night in the driving rain to make it back to Monday’s practice. Harbaugh was giving the team the usual Tuesday off in preparation for the game in Cleveland on Sunday, and the brunt of the storm spared most of Maryland, but created a state of emergency just 150 miles away as parts of New Jersey and New York were devastated and destroyed. The storm that eventually helped elect a President was wreaking havoc.

By Wednesday, it became a normal week and once again the Ravens had the thankless task of trying to find a way to sneak in and out of Cleveland with their 10th straight victory over the AFC North-rival Browns. The history of the Ravens and Browns and Art Modell was all written two decades ago. Now, it was simply a matter of a great franchise coming to a city with a poor franchise and continuing to rub more purple salt in the festering wounds. The fans of Cleveland still have incredible disdain for anything related to Art Modell’s Baltimore Ravens and probably always will.

“Everything we’ve done since our last game is geared towards going to Cleveland and being the best team we can be,” said Harbaugh, the sting of the Houston beating now in the rearview mirror. “We have everything we need – players and schemes – to play well. We have to organize it in a way that gives our players the opportunity to play their fastest and best under pressure, on the road and at home. We’ve had the chance with the bye to go into deep study and into the laboratory to figure out what we do best, and we want to take that into this game – and the other eight after that. We think we’ve learned a lot, and we’ll continue to push the envelope to be the best we can be. Our players are definitely good enough to get the job done.”

“There were some very real concerns. There are things that we need to do a lot better, not just from [Houston], but through the whole seven-game period that we felt like we needed to take a hard look at and we did, and I did feel good about it. I felt like our coaches, our players, the communication, we really went to work, and we really had some great conversations. We had some great discussions. We had some great study watching the tape. Guys did some great studies looking at numbers and things like that. In the end, what you try to do is make good counsel then make wise solid judgments about what makes us our best as we move forward. I am really excited about that – I really am. The proof will be in the pudding. So, if I say I am excited about it

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