Ravens begin playoff push Sunday against Eagles
— 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-
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.
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.