Ravens not afraid of matchup with big, bad Bears
The Baltimore Ravens are still in the playoff hunt because of their ability to beat bad teams, a trait that will again be tested Sunday against the Chicago Bears.
Five of Baltimore's six losses have come against clubs that currently lead their division. The exception is a defeat against the Green Bay Packers, who are 9-4.
But because the Ravens (7-6) are 5-0 against teams with losing records, they remain in contention to snare one of the two AFC wild-card slots.
``Even the games we lost to good teams, I thought we prepared well,'' defensive tackle Kelly Gregg said. ``You have to win the games you're supposed to win. That's how it is in this business. Every game is important. If you're supposed to win, you have to go out there and take advantage of it.''
Baltimore's perfect record against sub-.500 clubs is no small feat. The defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers have already been defeated by Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland, and Tampa Bay's lone win this season came against the Packers.
After the first month of the season, it was hard to envision the Bears as a bad team. With new quarterback Jay Cutler at the helm, Chicago lost at Green Bay before thumping Pittsburgh, Seattle and Detroit.
A host of injuries and turnovers turned the season into a disappointment, and now the Bears (5-8) have little to play for but pride. Asked if he considered this to be a good team that simply didn't get any breaks, coach Lovie Smith decided against latching onto that convenient excuse.
``That's an easy way for me to look at it and a way that I probably should, but we haven't made any breaks. We haven't gotten them, we haven't been lucky because we haven't created things for ourselves,'' Smith said. ``This can be a good football team. We'll find out a lot about ourselves this week coming up.''
The Bears and Cutler will be tested by the Ravens, who amassed a club-record 548 yards in a 48-3 rout of the woeful Detroit Lions.
Cutler has thrown 22 interceptions this season, and can ill afford to add significantly to that total if the Bears are to pull off an upset.
``Anytime you're throwing the amount of picks that I'm throwing, something's not going right,'' he said. ``It's something I've been working on, something we've been talking about. But when you boil it down, I've just got to take care of the ball better.''
In Cutler's defense, he's working with the worst-ranked running attack in the NFL and has been under an intense spotlight since the trade that sent him to Chicago from the Denver Broncos.
``There was a lot of pressure,'' he said. ``I think there were a lot of expectations in the city. But every NFL team in the country has pressure, everyone wants to win the Super Bowl. It wasn't anything that any other quarterback wasn't faced with.''
The pressure now is on the Ravens, who have struggled in their bid to return to the playoffs after reaching the AFC championship game last year. Baltimore, like Chicago, started strongly. But over the past seven weeks the Ravens have alternatingly won one and lost one, and now it's imperative they break the pattern to remain in the playoff picture.
``We can't sit back and say, 'Well, if we don't get it this week, we can get it next week,''' wide receiver Derrick Mason said. ``If we don't get it this week, there is no next week for us.''
Thus, Baltimore prepares for the Bears as if they're undefeated, which goes a long way toward explaining the Ravens' pristine record against losing teams.
``You can't overlook your opponent. You have to treat every week the same,'' linebacker Jarret Johnson said. ``You've got to know that any team can beat you. This isn't college football, where a team coming in with a bad record doesn't have any talent. This is the NFL. Those guys get paid, we get paid.''
At this point in the season, however, the Ravens have more incentive to excel.
``December is when you've got to win,'' linebacker Ray Lewis said. ``For us, around here, it's always been later in the season when we've probably played our best football. That's what we have to do. We have to go out and get this December rolling and then let the playoffs take care of themselves.''