Might be time for the Ravens to play the underdog

  • Ravens coach John Harbaugh chats with Ray Lewis during Sunday's AFC wild-card game against the Colts.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh chats with Ray Lewis during Sunday's… (LUIS M. ALVAREZ, MCT )
January 07, 2013|Mike Preston

As the Ravens begin preparations for Saturday's AFC divisional playoff game against Denver, the first thing they should do is break out the picture of quarterback Joe Flacco lying face down on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium.

On that day nearly four weeks ago, the Broncos left the Ravens lying helpless after a 34-17 win. Few questioned the Ravens' performance but many questioned their hearts.

So, that has to be a great motivation going into the Mile High City on Saturday. The Ravens would have been in a better position if the script had played out and they were going to Houston, but that's not the case.

The reality is traveling to Denver, and believe it or not, the Ravens are in a great position. Few experts are picking the Ravens to win, and the Broncos were early nine-point favorites.

I love being the underdog.

I cherish the position because it can often bring out the best in a team, and the Ravens will need that to beat Denver.

"They're a good football team and they got up on us early," said Flacco about the first game. "We made a couple of mistakes in the first half and the game kind of got away from us. They're a good football team, though, they've got a couple of good pass rushers, a good defense and it's going to be a good challenge. We're excited about it. We just didn't feel like we played up to par the last time we played them."

This is a coach's dream, but first, we've got to get head coach John Harbaugh to relax. Last week, he was too tense as if he had on his little brother's underwear.

Loosen up Harbs.

Take a few deep breaths, exhale and smile a little. Remember, your team has nothing to lose and everything to gain, and keep telling them that all week.

All the pressure is on the Broncos. Historically, they've been tough to beat at home where the altitude is a factor. They've won 11 straight, and they've got a god at quarterback in Peyton Manning.

I'd give the Broncos such a buildup that the Ravens started thinking the Broncos were on the verge of a dynasty or becoming one of the greatest teams in NFL history.

"We kind of want to show them that we can play better than we did last time," Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "So, we've got a week here to work on it and practice and get the kind of preparation we need to go in there and get a win. Definitely a great challenge. He [Manning] is one of the great quarterbacks in the history of the league."

Plus, Harbaugh should embrace the conspiracy angle that Baltimoreans love to use. He can tell his players that league officials scheduled the game to put the Ravens on a short week and have less time to prepare.

He can tell them how the Broncos should win this game because they had a first-round bye. Harbaugh should continue the puff and fluff stuff on Denver until Wednesday, and then pull the 180-degree turn.

That's when it's time to pull the no respect card.

Actually, it's true. Of the eight remaining teams, the Ravens and Houston Texans are the least favored to win the Super Bowl. The Ravens have had moments when they've looked good at times, but this season has been marred by inconsistency.

But this could be one of their moments of greatness on the way to the Lombardi Trophy. But to do that, they have to, in the words of former Ravens head coach Brian Billick, "go into Denver screaming like a banshee."

That mindset is already there. Soon after the Ravens beat Indianapolis on Sunday, Ravens receiver Anquan Boldin was asked how much he was looking forward to playing the Broncos.

"I'm really looking forward to it. I was hoping we would get them," Boldin said. "So, they'll see us next week.

"Because they shut you down?" asked the reporter.

Boldin's entire demeanor changed, as if he was in grade school and someone had stolen his lunch money.

"Just because we lost to them," Boldin said.

Those moments were intense.

The Ravens need that type of attitude. Who cares about the Broncos having the most balanced team in the NFL and two great pass rushers?

Everybody seems to want a New England vs Denver match in the AFC title game, and for that, the Ravens should be ticked.

This game has to be personal. So much that Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis should break out the "Where Would You Rather Be?" speech, the 2013 version, one more time.

On game day, the Ravens should attack instead of being attacked, and go after Manning and the Broncos because there is nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

There are few positions in sports better than being an underdog except when you pull the upset of the year and win one of the biggest games in franchise history.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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