Ravens aim to get step closer to divi­sion ti­tle

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD KARPOVICH

OWINGS MILLS, MD. | The Bal­ti­more Ravens are headed for a show­down with the Pitts­burgh Steel­ers, a Christ­mas Day matchup with all sorts of play­off im­pli­ca­tions.

A vic­tory puts the win­ner on the cusp of a divi­sion ti­tle while the loser will likely be on the out­side of the Wild Card race, need­ing help to get in the post­sea­son.

The Ravens have won the past four matchups against their archri­val and should be un­fazed by the thou­sands of Ter­ri­ble Tow­els wav­ing at Heinz Field. Bal­ti­more, how­ever, would also likely need to beat Cincin­nati in the reg­u­larsea­son fi­nale to win their first AFC North crown since 2012.

“The sit­u­a­tion we find our­selves in is some­thing that we’ve been work­ing hard for,” Ravens coach John Har­baugh said. “Our guys have been fight­ing like crazy to go to Pitts­burgh and then onto to Cincin­nati to try and win a divi­sion cham­pi­onship. They’ve earned the right to do that and we’re fired up about it. We can’t wait to play the game.”

With a vic­tory over Pitts­burgh, Bal­ti­more (8-6) would sweep the sea­son series and take over first place in the divi­sion. The Steel­ers (9-5) would clinch their sev­enth AFC North ti­tle with a win against Bal­ti­more. Pitts­burgh closes out its reg­u­lar sea­son with a home game against the win­less Cleve­land Browns.

The play­ers for Bal­ti­more are en­er­gized by the chal­lenge of play­ing the Steel­ers in what is sure to be a rau­cous crowd.

“This is what you live for,” Ravens safety Eric Wed­dle said. “It’s all the hours, all the sac­ri­fice, all the time, it’s for a chance to win the divi­sion and get into the dance. You hope and dream ev­ery day you’re get­ting up at 6 a.m. or 5 a.m., you don’t see your kids - it’s for this chance, and it’s all worth it. We’ll be ready to roll, (there’s) noth­ing more out there for us (than) to have a chance at the divi­sion against a ri­val team. It’s go­ing to be amaz­ing.”

One key for Bal­ti­more over the fi­nal two weeks of the reg­u­lar sea­son will be es­tab­lish­ing a more bal­anced of­fense. Ravens quar­ter­back Joe Flacco has at­tempted 579 passes, while the the team has run the ball 325 times, ranked 27th in the NFL.

The em­pha­sis on throw­ing the ball al­most ended Bal­ti­more’s post­sea­son hopes Sun­day against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles. It ap­peared the Ravens were about to put the game away when Flacco found re­ceiver Mike Wallace for a 54yard gain with just over six min­utes left in the fourth quar­ter. With a 10-point lead, Bal­ti­more could have just run the ball and set­tled for a field goal from the re­li­able Justin Tucker.

How­ever, Flacco threw an in­ter­cep­tion on the next play that helped Philadel­phia get back in the game. The Ravens even­tu­ally stopped a 2-point con­ver­sion with four sec­onds re­main­ing to pre­serve the 27-26 vic­tory.

Har­baugh said the de­ci­sion to throw the ball was “the all-time worst call ever.” Flacco, how­ever, de­fended the ag­gres­sive­ness of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg.

“Well, you can say it all you want but, I mean, to be hon­est with you, my thought was ‘shoot, Marty is go­ing to give me a third touch­down pass on the day,’ “said Flacco, who was 16 of 30 for 206 yards with two touch­downs and the in­ter­cep­tion. “I was kind of happy about it at that point, I mean, be­ing self­ish, but you’ve got to just to take care of the foot­ball and it’s a non-is­sue.”

John Har­baugh

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