Ravens in control for 2nd wild-card slot in AFC
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)
After all they've been through this season, the Baltimore Ravens are right where they need to be with four games left on the schedule.
The defending Super Bowl champions are riding their first winning streak since September, a two-game run that has put them atop the scramble for the AFC's second wild-card slot. Baltimore and Miami are both 6-6, but the Ravens own the tiebreaker by virtue of their 26-23 victory over the Dolphins in October.
If they win out, the Ravens are assured a sixth straight trip to the playoffs.
''We're excited about where we're at,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ''You can't really look back and say we wish this would have happened or we wish that would have happened. What's happened has happened, good and not so good.''
The Ravens have yet to get their running game going, are 1-5 on the road and just two weeks ago were two games under .500 after losing four of five. All of that is now meaningless.
''We are position to control our own destiny,'' Harbaugh said. ''That is what you try to accomplish going into December. Now it's up to us to make the most of it.''
The Ravens still have a shot at winning the AFC North - they trail Cincinnati by two games - but their most likely route to the postseason is as the final wild card. Entering Thanksgiving weekend, six teams were tied at 5-6. But Baltimore's 22-20 victory over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night created some separation, and by Sunday night only two of those six teams were at 6-6.
Harbaugh spent part of Sunday watching football on television. Several games had a direct bearing on the Ravens, such as the Bengals vs. Chargers and Jets vs. Dolphins.
''Everybody is playing everybody right now. A lot of times, it helps us either way and it hurts us both ways,'' he said. ''It doesn't really matter. That fact of the matter is, what matters is us. We just have to win. If we win games, things are going to work out for us. If we don't, things are going to be tough. We have to take care of ourselves.''
Baltimore still has a long way to go before it can be assured of making the playoffs. After hosting Minnesota on Sunday, the Ravens travel to Detroit, face New England at home and wrap up the regular season in Cincinnati.
The best part about playing on Thanksgiving night is that the players received some time off.
''Our team got a chance to heal at this time of year going into December. That's a big plus for us,'' Harbaugh said. ''We have December football in front of us. It's an important time of year. It's what we build our program around. It's where we try to be at our best.''
Harbaugh's teams usually save the best for last. Baltimore is 32-16 in November and December since Harbaugh took over in 2008, including 11-5 in December before last year, when the Ravens went 1-4 while coasting into the postseason.
''The idea is to be at your best when it means the most,'' Harbaugh said. ''That's what we try to do. ... We'll find out whether that is the case for this football team.''
As tough as this season has been, the Ravens just might end up benefiting from the uphill battle they've waged since losing to Denver by 22 in the opener.
''You definitely are a product of your experiences, and adversity is definitely a strength builder, a character builder,'' Harbaugh said. ''What we've been through has made us what we are right now. I'd like to think it's made us strong emotionally, mentally. And I think our hard work has made us strong, physically.''
The Ravens are relatively healthy. Cornerback Jimmy Smith (concussion) is expected to practice Wednesday, linebacker Elvis Dumervil has recovered from a leg injury and tight end Dennis Pitta could return after missing all year with a dislocated and fractured hip.
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