Tough loss to Pa­tri­ots kicks off crit­i­cal stretch for Bal­ti­more

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

—The Bal­ti­more Ravens will likely spend lit­tle time brood­ing over Mon­day’s dif­fi­cult loss to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots. Sim­ply put, they have no choice. De­spite fall­ing to the host Pa­tri­ots, 30-23, on Mon­day night, the Ravens re­main firmly in con­trol of their post­sea­son des­tiny. How­ever, the road has sud­denly grown much more dif­fi­cult.

In or­der to clinch a play­off berth, Bal­ti­more (7-6) will likely need to win all three of their re­main­ing reg­u­lar-sea­son con­tests, in­clud­ing a vic­tory on the road over the AFC North Di­vi­sion-lead­ing Pittsburgh Steel­ers (8-6) on Christ­mas Day.

“Go­ing for­ward, for us as a team, the mar­gin of er­ror is, we can’t er­ror. We have to win out,” Ravens tight end Den­nis Pitta said fol­low­ing Mon­day’s loss. “We un­der­stand that and we’re still in a po­si­tion to ac­com­plish what we want to ac­com­plish, so that’s some­thing that you have think pos­i­tively about.”

Bal­ti­more will host the Philadel­phia Ea­gles (5-8) next Sun­day, be­fore end­ing the year with backto-back in­ner-di­vi­sion road games

FOXBOROUGH, MASS.

against the Steel­ers and the Cincin­nati Bengals (5-7-1). With the AFC’s top Wild Card con­tenders lead­ing the Ravens by at least one game in the stand­ings, the team’s best op­por­tu­nity to make the play­offs will be to win the di­vi­sion.

Bal­ti­more has only won the North four times in team his­tory, in­clud­ing most re­cently in 2012, when it won Su­per Bowl XLVII.

“We know where we stand, the sit­u­a­tion we are in and that we ba­si­cally have to win three games, you know, and [we are] cer­tainly fully ca­pa­ble of do­ing that. That’s what we in­tend to do, but all the fo­cus goes to the next game,” Ravens head coach John Har­baugh said. “That’s what I told the guys in the locker room. Pack up the buses as quick as we can, get back to Bal­ti­more and get to work on Philadel­phia. It’s a very good Ea­gles team that we are play­ing on a short week.

“We’ve got to go play our best foot­ball next Sun­day at M&T Bank Sta­dium. We are go­ing to need our crowd man, we are go­ing to need our crowd in full force, be­cause we are mak­ing a run for the AFC North ti­tle and it starts with that game. We have to win that game. And that’s what we’re pre­par­ing for.”

The Ravens en­tered Mon­day hav­ing won four of their last five games, in­clud­ing a Week 9 win over the Steel­ers and a Week 12 tri­umph over the Bengals. Bal­ti­more cur­rently owns a per­fect 4-0 record against AFC North op­po­nents.

“It doesn’t re­ally mat­ter what our record is. Like I heard you guys [in the me­dia] say, we’ve just got to win our games,” said Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, who com­pleted a fran­chise record 37 passes dur­ing Mon­day’s de­feat. “Ob­vi­ously, Pittsburgh is a game ahead of us, but we still have an­other game against them at their place, so it will be tough, but we’ve got to fo­cus one week at a time and go win foot­ball games.”

Vet­eran Ravens line­backer Ter­rell Suggs shared a sim­i­lar mind­set as his quar­ter­back when an­swer­ing ques­tions fol­low­ing Mon­day’s set­back.

“It all starts with Philadel­phia next week,” he said. “We’re not wor­ried about any­body else. We have a huge game against Philadel­phia next week, so we’ll take care of busi­ness there and then we can talk about the rest of the sea­son. But we have a big one against Philadel­phia.”

Bal­ti­more ex­pe­ri­enced a sim­i­lar end-of-sea­son sce­nario in 2014 when they won three of their fi­nal four games to cap­ture the AFC’s fi­nal wild card spot. That year, the Ravens fol­lowed a late-sea­son loss to the San Diego Charg­ers with wins over the Mi­ami Dol­phins, Jack­sonville Jaguars and Cleve­land Browns to punch their play­off ticket.

Ravens wide re­ceiver Steve Smith, who had 20 catches for 197 yards and one touch­down over those three games, ex­pressed Mon­day what it will take for Bal­ti­more to re­peat the feat this time around.

“We’ve got to play hard,” Smith said. “We’ve got three games. We can’t be lol­ly­gag­ging. We have to go out there, we have to play dan­ger­ous, we have to play reck­less, we have to play to win and play to not lose.” Fol­low Jor­dan Schatz on Twit­ter: @Jor­dan_Whig

KEN­NETH K. LAM

The Bal­ti­more Ravens will likely need to win all three of their re­main­ing reg­u­larsea­son games, in­clud­ing a Christ­mas Day con­test against the di­vi­sion-ri­val Pittsburgh Steel­ers, pic­tured.

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