Ravens in control for 2nd wild-card slot in AFC

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.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org