No complaints here

Ravens refuse to let rigorous schedule, numerous injuries temper expectations

January 18, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

They wear their emotions on their sleeves - or at least their T-shirts - as in the "What's our name?" mantra.

They make no concessions to schedule, opponent or locale.

These resurrected Ravens - the playoff team built from the ashes of a 5-11 flameout a season ago - will make their final case for the Super Bowl tonight at Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game.

A victory over the Steelers would propel the Ravens to the second Super Bowl of their 13-year history, at the site of their first Super Bowl - Tampa, Fla.

If history beckons, the Ravens won't flinch.

They are attempting to become only the second sixth seed to reach the Super Bowl - the Steelers were the first, in the 2005 season - and second to win it.

They have won 13 games behind a rookie coach, John Harbaugh, who had been a special teams coach most of his NFL career, and a rookie quarterback, Joe Flacco, who toiled in the NCAA's version of the minor leagues, the former Division I-AA, at the University of Delaware, after transferring from Pittsburgh after his second year.

They knocked out the AFC's third seed (the Miami Dolphins) in the wild-card round.

They beat the No. 1 seed (the Tennessee Titans) in the divisional round.

Now, in their 18th consecutive week of games, they get their archrivals in the championship game, playing a team that has had two byes in the past 14 weeks.

Advantage Steelers?

Hardly. Rest in the postseason is overrated.

"To some degree, I think it is," Ravens veteran right tackle Willie Anderson said. "I think it's very overrated for us to sit back and say, 'Oh, well, because we haven't had a bye, we aren't rested.' We're past that point now. The coaches are smart. We've gotten this far because they have managed our practice time the entire season."

The Ravens effectively lost their bye week when Hurricane Ike forced the postponement of their Sept. 14 game in Houston against the Texans. They practiced all week, then broke for a long weekend.

They've played a game every week since then.

Installing his own brand of mental toughness, Harbaugh avoided making that trek a forced march. He adjusted practice schedules to spare legs and bodies, and now, four months later, it's a moot point.

"After we lost the bye week, we understood where we were going to be," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We understood what we had to do. We understood the obstacles that were going to be in front of us.

"So we prepared ourselves for it. And when you can prepare yourself for a situation, whatever is thrown at you, you're going to be able to go in there full force and handle business the way it needs to be handled. I think this team has done just that."

The Ravens handled adversity and injuries in a similar fashion. They lost defensive tackle Kelly Gregg in the preseason and replaced him with Justin Bannan. They lost safety Dawan Landry in Week 3 and called on Jim Leonhard. They lost cornerback Chris McAlister at midseason, and Fabian Washington stepped in.

Today, they might have to play without linebacker Terrell Suggs, their best pass rusher, and cornerback Samari Rolle, a savvy veteran, because of injuries.

"Next man up," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "We give [teammates] grief all week for not [practicing], no matter how serious the injury is. That's just what we do because everybody's dealing with something. That's just the way it is."

Not even the prospect of sub-freezing temperatures and snow in Pittsburgh tonight has led the Ravens to lament their latest obstacle. Harbaugh said the elements will not force the Ravens to modify their game plan.

"We've got a quarterback that's capable of handling whatever, and an offensive line and running backs that can handle the elements," he said. "When those guys get moving and their body temperatures get up, it's not a factor in the game."

Next man up, and no excuses.

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