Ravens are atop AFC North after bye week

November 01, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens returned from their bye to find they've moved into first place in the AFC North without playing a snap.

History says the Ravens don't need any outside assistance after the break.

Since 2002, the Ravens are 7-1 in games immediately after the bye, which is tied for the third-best record in the NFL. Only the Philadelphia Eagles (8-0) and New England Patriots (8-1) have better marks.

It comes down to fresh legs, cleared heads and a renewed attitude.

"There has to be a sense of urgency now," wide receiver Derrick Mason said after the Ravens' first practice in six days. "We're sitting in a good place. Right now, we have to put the pedal to the metal and not let up."

The Ravens leaped atop the division after the Pittsburgh Steelers lost to the New Orleans Saints, 20-10, Sunday night. Even though both teams are 5-2, the Ravens hold the tiebreaker because they beat the Steelers a month ago.

The Ravens' track record indicates that they're not going to fall from that spot against the Miami Dolphins (4-3) on Sunday.

Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 2-0 after the bye, winning in impressive fashion. They beat the Cleveland Browns in 2008 and Denver Broncos in 2009 by a combined score of 58-17.

"Coming off the bye, we have a clear understanding of what we have to do, and that's take care of business," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're in a good position right now, but it doesn't mean anything unless we go out and play our best this week."

In their second half, the Ravens face six teams with winning records as well as other obstacles.

Joe Flacco and the offense will face three defenses ranked in the top five in the NFL (the New Orleans Saints, Carolina Panthers and Pittsburgh). Ray Lewis and the defense will line up against top quarterbacks such as Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Schaub and Drew Brees.

"We know the second half of the season is going to be a tough stretch," running back Ray Rice said. "We're looking forward to the opportunity. Right now, we're in the hunt."

Getting healthy

The Ravens are a stronger team now than before the bye.

Tight end Todd Heap (neck and shoulder) expects to play Sunday after some much-needed rest. Mason started catching passes again after having surgery on his right pinky.

And wide receiver Donte' Stallworth is on target to make his Ravens debut after his first full practice of the regular season. He broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot two months ago.

"The main thing right now is just trying to stay patient and letting everything come to me and not to be too aggressive and trying to do too much out there," Stallworth said. "The goal isn't to run every route in practice, but to make sure I'm getting enough work day by day, getting better every day. I think that's the main goal."

Perhaps the biggest injury concern right now is safety Tom Zbikowski (bruised heel), who is wearing a protective boot on his right foot. He missed his first game of the season Oct. 24 against the Buffalo Bills.

Clearing heads

While some players needed time to heal, cornerback Fabian Washington took the time to recover mentally.

Washington headed into the bye after giving up three touchdowns to Buffalo wide receiver Lee Evans. He had put the game behind him by midweek, but he did watch the tape three times before doing so.

"I was disgusted at myself," he said. "I don't know what to say about that performance."

Washington acknowledged that he worked with the starters Monday, but he wouldn't say whether he is starting Sunday. Harbaugh wouldn't commit last week to Washington as his starter.

"I can say we're all going to play," Washington said. "We'll see Sunday."

Turning the tables

No one has to tell the Ravens about the advantages of a bye week.

Their last two games before the break were against teams coming off an extra week of rest. The Ravens lost at New England, 23-20, in overtime and needed overtime to beat the winless Bills, 37-34.

This time, the Ravens are the ones who got to take off five days.

"Hopefully, we took advantage of it in the right way," Harbaugh said. "Anytime you've had some days off, it's a lot different than it would have been if we had played a game. Yeah, there's going to be a benefit there. It's something that's important. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it, like some teams do after the bye."

Harbaugh described Monday's two-hour practice as "spirited," and Rice did a little dance in the middle of the locker room afterward.

There is a big reason the Ravens can be so upbeat: They control their fate for the final nine weeks of the regular season. Only the Patriots (6-1) have a better record than they do in the NFL, and the Ravens have beaten two of the other top teams in the AFC (Pittsburgh and the New York Jets).

"We were fresh and excited to be out there," cornerback Chris Carr said. "I told some of them: 'I actually miss you guys.'"



Since 2002, the Ravens are 7-1 after the bye, which is tied for the third-best record in the NFL. Here's how the Ravens have fared in games after the break: YearTeamResult2002vs. DenverW, 34-232003at ArizonaW, 26-182004vs. BuffaloW, 20-62005vs. N.Y. JetsW, 13-32006at New OrleansW, 35-222007at PittsburghL, 38-72008vs. ClevelandW, 28-102009vs. DenverW, 30-7

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