Ravens can give thanks for help they received Sunday

December 01, 2013|Peter Schmuck

It has been a snakebit season for the Ravens, but if they make it into the playoffs, they'll remember Week 13 — of all numerical designations — as the point when their luck changed for the better in a big way.

Of course, it started with their two-point victory over the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, and every game against their most bitter rival seems to come down to one dramatic play. The win lifted them to .500 for the first time since mid-October and put their postseason fate in their own hands, but there's no crime in accepting a little help along the way.

The Ravens got quite a bit of it on Sunday. While they sat in front of their television sets, they gained ground on almost everyone they are expected to battle for the final wild card berth if they don't end up overtaking the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North title.

Week 13 began with six AFC teams essentially tied for that final playoff spot with 5-6 records, but the Ravens knocked back the Steelers and got something positive out of every other game this weekend that had a direct impact on their playoff or title hopes.

Let's review:

Dolphins 23, Jets 3: Miami embarrassed the Jets at home and joined the Ravens at 6-6 in a game where the outcome would have been positive either way. Both the Dolphins and Jets were among those six contenders and the Ravens have beaten both of them this year. So, if it comes down to a two-way tiebreaker for that final wild card berth, the Ravens would be in.

Colts 22, Titans 14: It was a must-win situation for the Titans, who have to go back on the road to face the Broncos next week. They needed to get to 6-6 ahead of that game, but if they can upset Denver they have a relatively soft schedule the rest of the way.

Bengals 17, Chargers 10: This was another situation where the outcome was going to benefit the Ravens one way or the other. It probably would have been nice to pick up a game on the Bengals to get in position for a possible Week 17 showdown for the division title — still not out of the question — but their best chance of getting into the playoffs is as the second AFC wild card. The Chargers became the fourth of the other five 5-6 teams to go down.

Happy purple Thanksgiving weekend, indeed.

There's a long way to go and the Ravens still have some big obstacles standing in the way of a sixth consecutive playoff berth in six years under coach John Harbaugh. They can't even afford to look past next week's game against the three-win Minnesota Vikings at M&T Bank Stadium.

The Vikings lost seven of their first eight games and looked like they were all packed up for the winter a month ago. They can't fix this season, but they have looked much more formidable since they defeated the Redskins in Week 10. Since then, they lost to the Seahawks, but tied the Packers last week and went deep into overtime on Sunday to defeat the Bears.

If nothing else, the Vikings will put the Ravens defense to a stiff test if Adrian Peterson's performance was any indication. He rushed for 211 yards and surpassed the 10,000-yards rushing for his career. Veteran quarterback Matt Cassel also had a statement game, engineering a 10-point comeback and throwing for 243 yards and a touchdown.

Still, the game against the Vikings next Sunday is the least daunting of the Ravens' remaining games. They have to go on the road the following week to face the Detroit Lions — who ran up 40 points on the Packers on Thursday — and then face Tom Brady and the New England Patriots at M&T Bank Stadium ahead of a potentially decisive season finale in Cincinnati.

There's not a thing about the fourth quarter of the regular season that the Ravens can take for granted, but they are positioned much better for the final stretch than they were just a few days ago. During this uneven and often frustrating season, Ravens fans cannot ask for much more than that.

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.

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