Given a second chance to earn a home playoff game, the Baltimore
Ravens hope to put a rousing finish on a topsy-turvy week by
defeating the Cleveland Browns on Saturday.
Baltimore clinched a playoff berth last Sunday afternoon shortly
before taking the field on the road against the San Diego Chargers.
The Ravens then lost control of the top seed in the AFC with a
clunker of a performance in a 34-14 defeat.
The setback dropped Baltimore to the fifth-seed position and put
Pittsburgh atop the AFC North. Just 24 hours later, however, the
Steelers lost to San Francisco to throw the Ravens back in command
of the race for the division crown.
And now, the Baltimore will finish a whirlwind seven-day stretch
at home against the Browns (4-10). If Baltimore wins its final two
games, it will capture the AFC North, get a first-round bye and
play at home in second round.
That’s a pretty sweet scenario, given the desperate situation
the Ravens were in after Sunday night’s defeat.
”The fact that if we win both games now, we will win the
division, that means a lot,” coach John Harbaugh said. ”Of
course, we have to control what we have to control. And the beauty
of that is, we can control a lot.”
Running back Ray Rice put it more succinctly: ”We don’t got to
take our show on the road if we take care of business.”
The last thing the Ravens need is to hit the road for the
playoffs. Baltimore reached the postseason as a wild-card team in
each of the previous three seasons, and although the Ravens went
4-3 overall, on each occasion their quest to reach the Super Bowl
died on foreign turf.
That path might be even more difficult to follow this year,
because the Ravens are 7-0 at home and 3-4 on the road. So beating
Cleveland on Saturday and winning at Cincinnati next Sunday is
imperative for Baltimore’s upcoming playoff run.
The first order of business is knocking off the Browns, which
would enable the Ravens to go unbeaten at home for the first time
in franchise history.
”It’s going to be a great accomplishment if we get it done,”
Rice said. ”The fans get to say, `Look, the Ravens gave us a sight
to see at home this year.’ But I’m sure they would even appreciate
it more if the playoffs were here as well.”
It’s all there for the Ravens. But what are the Browns playing
”We have a two-game season here,” coach Pat Shurmur said.
”We’re looking to do what we can to try and string a couple
victories here at the end of the season.”
Beating the Ravens wouldn’t take the sting out of another
last-place finish, but it sure couldn’t hurt.
”We’re not throwing in the towel just because we’re not in
it,” rookie wide receiver Greg Little said. ”We’re trying to take
somebody down with us. That takes a very big guy to stand up and
say we’re not going to back down because we’re not in the
Cleveland has two games left, against Baltimore and Pittsburgh,
which means the Browns will have the final say in who wins the AFC
”Yeah, at this point, the playoffs are out of the picture,”
linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said. ”But if we can knock one of those
guys off, we definitely want to play the spoiler.”
The Browns have additional motivation: They’ve lost seven
straight to Baltimore, including a 24-10 defeat earlier this month,
a game in which Rice ran for a career-high 204 yards on a soggy
”We got embarrassed, and every guy on this team on the
defensive side is aware of it,” Jackson said. ”They came out and
ran the ball down our throat, so we’ve got another good challenge
ahead of us. That first meeting was not the identity we want to put
out versus the Ravens. We have to face them twice a year. They’re
aware of it that, and they came in and basically just bullied
Even if the Browns stop Rice, there is some question as to
whether they can put a dent in a Baltimore defense that yielded
only 13 first downs, 233 yards and just one meaningless touchdown
in that first game. And that was without middle linebacker Ray
Lewis, who returned last week from a right toe injury.
The Browns will likely start Seneca Wallace at quarterback ahead
of Colt McCoy, who is still feeling the effects of a concussion.
But the key to Cleveland’s offense is running back Peyton Hillis,
who rambled for 144 yards last season in Baltimore.
”We talk about how you have to stop the run first and foremost,
and now you’ve got a veteran,” Ravens defensive coordinator Chuck
Baltimore is favored by nearly two touchdowns, but after what
happened Sunday in San Diego, nothing is being taken for
”We’ve got Cleveland coming in. I describe them as the
brawler,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. ”They’re going to come
and they’re going to fight. We expect nothing else.”
AP Sports Writer Tom Withers in Cleveland contributed to this