Tough loss to Patriots kicks off critical stretch for Baltimore
—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
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
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.