Harbaugh won’t let Ravens coast into playoffs

Now that they’ve finally wrapped up another AFC North crown, the

Baltimore Ravens intend to get healthy, close out the regular

season with a win and take some momentum into the playoffs.

Baltimore (10-5) snapped a three-game skid and clinched its

second straight division title Sunday with a 33-14 rout of the

defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No matter what

happens in this Sunday’s finale against Cincinnati, the Ravens will

host a first-round playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6.

But coach John Harbaugh won’t let Baltimore coast into the

postseason. After watching Baltimore click in all phases against

the Giants, he’s looking for an encore against the Bengals.

”That’s how you improve, that’s how you get you better,”

Harbaugh said Monday. ”Momentum, sure it’s a good word. What does

that mean exactly? It means that we’re improving. The idea is we

have plenty of things to work on, and we’ve got to continue to

improve to be the best we can in the playoffs. This week is an

opportunity to do that.”

If Baltimore wins and New England loses to Miami, the Ravens get

a No. 3 seed and open the postseason against Cincinnati. Harbaugh

said he knows all the possibilities – and doesn’t really care.

”We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board

as far as where that could shake out on Sunday,” he said. ”But

there’s no way to say for sure what’s going to happen, so we’ll

just have to see how it plays out.”

If the game is blowout, Harbaugh will consider removing some of

his starters. But he’s not counting on that happening.

”The biggest thing is that you can’t play this game at half

speed. Our guys are going to play the game full speed to win,” he

said.

The Ravens are 4-3 on the road, so this could serve as a tuneup

for potential games at New England, Denver or Houston.

”It’s a plus for us, an opportunity to go play on the road like

this in a real tough environment,” Harbaugh said. ”It’s a rivalry

game, it’s in the division. These two teams play it out pretty good

every single time. So yeah, it’ll help us build up our callouses a

little bit for the playoffs.”

Prior to Sunday’s win over New York, the Ravens appeared to be

regressing after a 9-2 start. Their losing streak began with

three-point losses to both Pittsburgh and Washington and ended with

a 34-17 embarrassment at home against Denver.

Against the Giants, however, the Ravens scored touchdowns on

their first two possessions, led by 17 at halftime and never let

New York back into it.

”We’ve been practicing really well throughout the course of the

last four weeks,” Harbaugh said. ”At some point in time it’s

going to show itself on the field on game day. It was our best

overall performance, I think. It was the best we’ve done at putting

all three phases together and playing well. We blocked, we tackled,

our playmakers made plays. We didn’t turn the ball over. We didn’t

do the things that cost us and hurt us like we did in the other

three games.”

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who had six turnovers during the losing

streak, threw for 309 yards and didn’t give the ball away once. If

he and the Ravens play like that in the postseason, Baltimore will

be dangerous.

”I said last week we’re going to see what kind of team we are.

We believe we’re this kind of team,” Flacco said after the Ravens’

dominating performance. ”We’re really going to see if we are. I

think that we showed ourselves and we showed people that we are

that kind of team. We’re here to stay, and we just have to do all

we can to get better, to play like this, and even get better than

this throughout the remaining weeks.”

One reason for the Ravens to give their all this Sunday is that

it’s another chance for the offense to get in sync with coordinator

Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron two weeks ago. The

Baltimore attack sputtered against Denver in its first foray under

Caldwell, then racked up 533 yards against New York.

”That’s the way we can play,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith,

who returned from a concussion.

Baltimore won’t have linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) against

the Bengals because Harbaugh wants to give the 17-year veteran more

time to recover from an injury that has kept him sidelined since

Oct. 14.

But the Ravens hope to have back safety Bernard Pollard, who’s

missed two straight weeks with a chest injury, and receiver Anquan

Boldin, who left with a bruised shoulder in the second half against

New York.

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