Game plan: move on

Ravens hang tough after loss, hold on to playoff hopes

December 16, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

If the Ravens are as resilient as they've been all season, they will make the playoffs.

The Ravens (9-5) control their postseason prospects because they can earn a berth by winning their last two regular-season games.

That means beating the Dallas Cowboys (9-5) in the final game at Texas Stadium and the Jacksonville Jaguars (5-9) at M&T Bank Stadium. But that also means the Ravens moving past Sunday's frustrating 13-9 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on a shortened week.

"We're going to go there ready to play," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We've got two games left to get some wins and prove that we're a playoff team, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

Under first-year head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have shown they don't dwell on losses - even the difficult ones. Their previous two losses prove that.

After the Ravens got blown out at Indianapolis by four touchdowns, they went on a four-game winning streak, including three on the road.

When the Ravens got pushed around by the New York Giants in a 20-point loss, they picked themselves up to win three straight games by an average margin of 24.6 points.

Defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs said there is "no doubt" that the Ravens will rebound in similar fashion this time.

"Yes, we really wanted to win this one bad, but you can't hold on to this one too long," Suggs said. "We got two games for the rest of our season. We win out, we're in the playoffs. We don't, it's not looking good. So we'd better handle business."

There was a sense that the Ravens had already begun to move past the loss to the Steelers in the locker room Sunday.

Minutes after Santonio Holmes' controversial touchdown in the final minute of the game, the Ravens players weren't complaining about the officials.

Instead, they spoke about the quick turnaround in preparing for Dallas. The Ravens play the Cowboys on Saturday in a nationally televised game on the NFL Network (telecast locally on Channel 11).

"You have to be mature about it," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "You have to be a man about it."

The Ravens share the a 9-5 record with three teams, the New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots.

If the Ravens win their last two games, they would finish 11-5, including 8-4 in the AFC. If Miami and New England end with 11-5 records, the Ravens would earn the playoff berth over the Dolphins (because the Ravens beat them this season) and the Patriots (because the Ravens would have the better conference record).

The Ravens don't have to worry about the Jets finishing with an 11-5 record because New York would clinch the AFC East with that mark and not figure into the wild-card race.

So, the crux of this situation for the Ravens is: Win and you're in.

"One of the things I'm going to tell my young guys is that we have to keep going," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "There's two more games left; we can go in 11-5. You deal with what you deal with. The bottom line is your motivation cannot change. You take a loss just like you take a win - strap it up, short week, let's go to Dallas."

Here are three reasons the Ravens have rebounded this season:

* Getting off to fast starts. : The biggest indication that the Ravens had forgotten about the past was their focus at the beginning of games. After getting routed in Indianapolis, the Ravens jumped to a 17-6 halftime lead in Miami. It was the same way after the Ravens got run over against the New York Giants. The Ravens showed no lingering effects in running to a 10-0 advantage against the Philadelphia Eagles.

* Defense elevates its game. : In losses at Indianapolis and New York, the Ravens' secondary and front seven took turns looking bad. But both stepped up the next game. At Miami, Suggs returned an interception 44 yards for a touchdown to break a tie at 3. Against Philadelphia, safety Ed Reed ran back an interception 108 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.

* Flacco gets back on track: . Flacco looked like a rookie in losses to the Colts and Giants, throwing a total of five interceptions. In games after those two losses, Flacco has produced a passer rating of 107.1. The coaches continue to be impressed with how Flacco has displayed maturity in turning his attention to the next game.

When Harbaugh talked to Flacco at 9:30 yesterday morning, the rookie quarterback had already reviewed the Pittsburgh game and had begun watching tape of the Cowboys.

"That's indicative of where our football team is at," Harbaugh said.

"Our guys have moved on. You take the emotions and throw them away. You learn from the corrections and let's go forward. It's next game up in the NFL."

RAVENS (9-5) @COWBOYS (9-5)

Saturday, 8:15 p.m.

TV: Ch. 11, NFL

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Cowboys by 5

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