Ravens be­gin play­off push Sunday against Ea­gles

Cecil Whig - - SPORTS - By JOR­DAN SCHATZ

jschatz@ce­cil­whig.com

— The path to the play­offs is straight-for­ward for the Bal­ti­more Ravens.

They will likely need to win all three of their re­main­ing reg­u­larsea­son con­tests in or­der to clinch the AFC North Divi­sion, which would re­sult in a post­sea­son berth for the first time since 2014.

The jour­ney be­gins Sunday, when Bal­ti­more (7-6) kicks off the three-game stretch with a non­con­fer­ence battle at M&T Bank Sta­dium against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles (5-8).

“This is at least where you want to be. The op­por­tu­nity to con­trol your own fate with vic­tory is re­ally what you hope to work for at this time of the sea­son. Two teams in our divi­sion have that – us and the Steelers, and we’ll both be fight­ing for that divi­sion cham­pi­onship right now. And the Ben­gals are still in it. Math­e­mat­i­cally, they have a shot, too,” Ravens head coach John Har­baugh said. “We have our work cut out for us, but all that be­comes fo­cus on the task at hand, which is to win the next game. We have to beat the Philadel­phia Ea­gles, a very good Philadel­phia Ea­gle team, in our sta­dium on Sunday af­ter­noon to make it count.”

Sunday marks the Ravens’ fi­nal home game of the year be­fore they em­bark on back-to-back in­ner-divi­sion road games against the divi­sion-lead­ing Pitts­burgh Steelers and the reign­ing divi­sion cham­pion Cincin­nati Ben­gals.

Har­baugh, who has led Bal­ti­more to the post­sea­son in six of his eight sea­sons on the Bal­ti­more side­line—in­clud­ing a pair of divi­sion crowns and a Su­per Bowl ti­tle— doesn’t be­lieve his team will look be­yond an Ea­gles squad that has lost eight of their last 10 games.

“No, we don’t,” Har­baugh said Wed­nes­day when asked if his team needs a re­minder about stay­ing fo­cused on Philadel­phia. “Our guys are com­pletely fo­cused on this game. It’s not some­thing we would have to say to them at all. They un­der­stand it. They get it. This is what they do. This is what they do, and they’re com­pletely fo-

OWINGS MILLS

cused on the task at hand.”

Bal­ti­more will aim for a re­turn to the win col­umn af­ter suf­fer­ing a 30-23 loss to the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots on Mon­day night. Aided by a pair of sec­ond-half spe­cial team mis­takes by the Pa­tri­ots, the Ravens erased a 20-point lead to pull within a score, but fell just short.

The loss snapped a mod­est twogame win­ning streak for Bal­ti­more.

“We’ve been play­ing in these types of games for a while now. I think ev­ery­one’s fo­cus, drive and sac­ri­fice is there. Ob­vi­ously, we weren’t good enough to beat the Pa­tri­ots. That’s re­ally what the re­al­ity comes down to, but that doesn’t mean that our ul­ti­mate goal to win the divi­sion and get in the play­offs isn’t at­tain­able,” Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle said Wed­nes­day. “The quicker we can learn from our mis­takes, move on and get on to Philadel­phia – which we have; we had a great prac­tice today – the bet­ter we’ll be on Sun- day. We just can’t let it hang over our heads and have a poor per­for­mance when ev­ery­thing is still right there to be at­tained.”

De­spite al­low­ing 496 to­tal net yards by New Eng­land’s of­fense, in­clud­ing 406 pass­ing yards to quar­ter­back Tom Brady, the Ravens’ de­fense re­mains among the NFL’s top five in yards al­lowed per game (311.5 per game). They face Ea­gles rookie quar­ter­back Car­son Wentz on Sunday, who en­ters hav­ing com­pleted 317 passes for 3,215 yards and 13 touch­downs.

“The first thing you see when you turn on the tape, of the de­fense es­pe­cially, is a re­ally sound foot­ball team. They fly around,” Wentz said of fac­ing the Ravens. “Ob­vi­ously, Eric Wed­dle back there, he’s all over the field mak­ing plays ev­ery­where. A guy like [linebacker] Ter­rell Suggs, you have to al­ways know where he’s at. They fly around. They’re a great foot­ball team, a great de­fense, es­pe­cially. We have our work cut out for us, but we’re ex­cited for the chal­lenge.

“Against the Ravens’ de­fense, we’re just go­ing to have to stay on the field. Whether we’re run­ning or throw­ing or what­ever it is, we just have to be ef­fi­cient, stay on the field and re­ally con­vert third downs, and in the red zone, be­cause that’s a good foot­ball team. We have to be sharp.”

Of­fen­sively, Bal­ti­more will look to re­turn to Week 11 form, when it piled up a sea­son-high 496 yards, in­clud­ing five touch­down passes from quar­ter­back Joe Flacco, in a 39-6 home win over the Mi­ami Dol­phins.

Against New Eng­land, Flacco (37-50 for 324 yards, two touch­downs, one in­ter­cep­tion) saw in­creased zone play by the op­pos­ing de­fense, re­sult­ing in fewer open re­ceivers and tougher throws to make. He be­lieves Philadel­phia will cre­ate a sim­i­lar look de­fen­sively on Sunday.

“I think it is just be­ing pre­cise. We ex­pected a lit­tle man [cov­er­age], ob­vi­ously, last week. We have to come in prob­a­bly a lit­tle bit more pre­pared and be able to make quicker ad­just­ments. In terms of when you are play­ing [against] zone, it is just get­ting the ball out in a rhythm. Be­cause those zones can open for some­times a split sec­ond, and when ev­ery­body is on the same page and sit­ting in the right spot and the ball is com­ing out at the right time, that is when you can re­ally hit it. That is when you can get catch and runs, even when they are play­ing zone,” Flacco said. “I think when we were get­ting yards on first down no mat­ter how it was, we were mov­ing the chains. You go back to that [Pa­tri­ots] game, and we moved the ball a good amount, but at times in the first half, af­ter we moved the ball the ini­tial times, we would get stalled out for what­ever rea­son. I could be more spe­cific if I was look­ing at it right now. But yes, you have to be ef­fi­cient in ev­ery way. That is ob­vi­ously how you win games.”

For Philadel­phia, the fo­cus is on im­prov­ing as the sea­son comes to a close and build­ing mo­men­tum for next year.

“We are in a po­si­tion where we can just get bet­ter and con­tinue our pro­gres­sion to where we want to be and try to com­pete and fight and try to get a win,” said first-year Ea­gles coach Doug Ped­er­son said, whose team tail­spinned af­ter a 3-0 start. “It’s frus­trat­ing, be­cause you put so much work in – play­ers and coaches – dur­ing the week, and you want to go out there and you want to perform well. When it doesn’t hap­pen, that’s the frus­trat­ing part. The beauty of it is you can come back to work the next week and get ready for your next op­po­nent.

“It’s just un­for­tu­nate that you’re run­ning out of weeks.”

Note: Philadel­phia rookie run­ning back Wen­dell Small­wood, cur­rently on in­jured re­served, played his se­nior high school sea­son at East­ern Chris­tian Academy in Elkton. He went on to play col­le­giate foot­ball at West Vir­ginia Univer­sity be­fore be­ing drafted in the fifth round this past April by the Ea­gles.

LLOYD FOX

Wide re­ceiver Chris Moore, pic­tured, and the Bal­ti­more Ravens host the Philadel­phia Ea­gles on Sunday at M&T Bank Sta­dium. The Ravens most likely need to win their re­main­ing three games to clinch a play­off berth.

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