Fantastic In The The

In Past 5 Wins, Ravens Have Been Proficient In Sealing Deal

November 25, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

If the Ravens finish the season the way they've been finishing games, they should be considered Super Bowl contenders.

The Ravens have put teams away in their past five victories, outscoring them 77-0 in the fourth quarter.

The final period has been the time when the offense controls the clock with its running game and the defense tees off on quarterbacks forced to throw the ball.

"You want to send a message to the other people watching the film that once your head is underwater, we're going to keep it there," defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "We've got the mentality that we don't let people back in the game. We want to beat people [into] submission."

This lesson was taught early in the season, when the Ravens failed to extend second-half leads against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Tennessee Titans and lost both times.

Since that time, the Ravens have routinely turned close games into routs.

That's what happened Sunday in the Ravens' 36-7 win over the Philadelphia Eagles.

After beginning the fourth quarter with a 12-7 lead, the Ravens exploded with a 24-point fourth quarter that included a 53-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco to Mark Clayton and a 108-yard interception return for a touchdown by Ed Reed.

"You could see their competitiveness leave," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said of the Eagles. "It's great to see that and feel that."

Rookie head coach John Harbaugh said there are a number of factors why the Ravens have outscored teams 84-23 in the fourth quarter this season.

He pointed to the intangibles - the players having trust in one another and having confidence in the coaching staff.

"If good football teams stay with what they're doing and not make mistakes as the game wears on, they'll find a way to win a game at the end," Harbaugh said. "Our guys have done that. That's something we have to take with us for the next five weeks."

A ranking of the Ravens' final five games, from easiest to hardest:

1. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7), Dec. 28, M&T Bank Stadium

Why will beating the Jaguars be easier than the Bengals? It all boils down to this is the final game of the regular season. The Ravens have won their last regular-season game at home for the past five years. In their four playoff seasons, the Ravens have finished strong, beating their final regular-season opponent at home by double digits three times.

Plus, the Jaguars are falling apart, losing four of their past five games. Their only win during this stretch has come against the winless Detroit Lions. By the end of December, Jacksonville might be calling it quits under Jack Del Rio, who could be a lame-duck coach.

Predicted winner:: Ravens

2. Cincinnati Bengals (1-9-1), Sunday,

Paul Brown Stadium

From Carson Palmer's injury to the ongoing distraction of Chad Ocho Cinco, the Bengals have been in a season of disarray. Cincinnati is among the worst teams in the NFL, ranking 31st in scoring (13.5 points) and 25th in points allowed (25.1).

The Ravens have already been set as seven-point favorites, which ties their largest spread of the season (the Ravens were seven-point favorites over the Oakland Raiders).

Though there could be a temptation to overlook the Bengals, the Ravens have been extremely focused under Harbaugh. They haven't lost to a team with a losing record all season. But the Ravens will have to overcome history. They haven't swept the Bengals since 2002 and have lost their past three trips to Cincinnati.

Predicted winner:: Ravens

3. Washington Redskins (7-4), Dec. 7,

M&T Bank Stadium

It's a long-awaited game for Ravens fans, because this marks the first time their hated NFL neighbors down the parkway come to M&T for a regular-season game. Now, with the teams' resurgence under rookie coaches, it's a game that has drawn national interest. New coach Jim Zorn and NFL leading rusher Clinton Portis have the Redskins in the thick of the NFC playoff race.

That's why the game has been shifted to Sunday night, which doesn't do the Ravens any favors. The Ravens have lost their past seven prime-time games. But the Ravens have beaten up on the NFC at home, going 8-1 against the conference at M&T since 2004.

Predicted winner:: Ravens

4. Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3), Dec. 14,

M&T Bank Stadium

It's possible the Steelers are the best team in the AFC at this point. Their defense ranks first in the NFL in total yards, rushing yards, passing yards and points allowed. As long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger holds up, Pittsburgh could make a strong Super Bowl run.

But the Ravens have owned Pittsburgh at home recently, winning five straight times. It hasn't come easy, though. Three of those games have been decided by six points or fewer, including two overtime games.

Predicted winner:: Steelers

5. Dallas Cowboys (7-4), Dec. 20,

Texas Stadium

The odds are stacked against the Ravens because this will be the final game at Texas Stadium before the Cowboys relocate to their new digs in Arlington. With some pre-game pageantry expected, the Cowboys won't want to end their 37-year run here with a loss.

The Cowboys are starting to hit their stride with the return of quarterback Tony Romo, who is 6-2 as their starter this season. Although the Ravens have played solid on the road, the two most recent times they traveled to play teams with a winning record (Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants) resulted in blowouts.

Predicted winner:: Cowboys

FOURTH-AND-DONE

In their past five victories, the Ravens have dominated the fourth quarter, outscoring opponents 77-0.

7-0

10-19

at Miami

7-0

Oct. 26

vs. Oakland

17-0

Nov. 2

at Cleveland

22-0

Nov. 9

at Houston

24-0

Sunday

vs. Philadelphia

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