TOUGH TASK IN SAN DIEGO
Under head coach Norv Turner, the Chargers are a remarkable 19-2 during December and January (regular season) in the last five seasons (2007-11).
In the John Harbaugh Era, the Ravens own the NFL's best overall record for the combined months of November, December and January. Baltimore is 25-9 since 2008, while second-best New England is 24-9, and San Diego is third at 23-9.
The Chargers are hot, winning their last two games by a combined score of 75-24: 37-10 over the visiting Bills last Sunday and 38-14 at Jacksonville on Dec. 11.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are not exactly tepid. Baltimore has won four in a row and six of their last seven. Triumphs in this current run include wins against two 10-victory teams: 16-6 over the 49ers on Thanksgiving night and 23-20 at Pittsburgh on Nov. 6.
Baltimore and San Diego have plenty of incentives to win, all involving playoff ramifications.
Yes, no doubt, the Chargers are good. In fact, very good for a team that carries a 6-7 record. And, yes, it is going to be hard to win against the Powder Blues – they are wearing those jerseys – in their home stadium.
But, as Coach Harbaugh loves to say, we are just the team to get it done.
There will be a playoff atmosphere to this game, which will be played in front of a national audience on NBC-TV. Good! Because what the Chargers will see up close and NFL fans will watch on TV is a Ravens' team prepared to play their best. … and that's pretty good.
Since John Harbaugh arrived in 2008, he has pushed the Ravens to be the "best we can be today. … and if we work to do that, we'll be better every day." He has preached "team, team, team" over all the distractions that come with players having everyday opportunities to single themselves out.
DID YOU NOTICE RAY RICE?
A reporter this week basically begged Ray Rice to complain about the fact that he's in the last year of his contract. Rice didn't take the bait. Instead he talked about beating the Chargers and then getting ready for the next game. And, pleasantly, Ray told all reporters, "My contract time will come. I'm not worried about it now. I trust the Ravens, and I want to be here."
It would have been so easy for Rice to say: "Look, I'm leading the league in yards from scrimmage right now. I thought we'd have a contract done by this time. I'm a little disappointed."
Ray didn't do that. He's part of a special brotherhood right now. The group is called the "2011 Baltimore Ravens." The goals for this unit transcend those of the individuals. We see it all the time in the building. The players do have each other's backs.
This week, another reporter asked Terrell Suggs: "Do you think you can win the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year award for the season?"
"Sizzle" didn't say: "That's one of my goals. I'll need more sacks to get it. Playing big on a national stage this Sunday night would help." Instead, Suggs pointed to a giant photo of the Super Bowl trophy in the Ravens' indoor practice field: "I don't care about MVPs and All-Pros. We want that. We're playing to win a championship, not win awards."
WHAT HAVE I BEEN SAYING ALL SEASON?
"THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT THIS TEAM." That's what I've been saying.
Worried about the Chargers? You bet I am.
But, I know what kind of team we're taking to San Diego.
It's directed by a head coach who loves these challenges. A head coach who took the 2010 Ravens to the AFC West champion Chiefs in January for a 30-7 victory. The same coach who guided the 2009 Ravens to a 33-14 triumph over the AFC East-winning Patriots … the same who won at Miami and No. 1-seeded Tennessee in the 2008 playoffs.
Anyone remember going to Dallas in December, 2008 in the last game played at Texas Stadium? The one the Cowboys had to win to stay alive in the playoff hunt … the one the Ravens needed to keep postseason hope alive.
The Chargers need to be ready for us, and we expect they will be.
They're going to get the best of the Ravens. They're getting a battle-tested group led by some hardened veterans who know how important this game is.
Am I worried about the Chargers and a Philip Rivers-led offense – he's thrown seven TDs in the last two weeks with no interceptions? About their defense, which is the NFL's eighth best right now?
Yeah, I am.
But, they're concerned about us, too. They know what's coming. They are getting the best we have to offer – and I like what we're offering.
DOING THE EXTRAS
Near the end of yesterday's walk-through practice, I noticed a group of about 12 players, arranged in a circle, doing some serious core exercises. These players, including guys like Suggs, Cory Redding and Jarret Johnson, were not involved in what Coach Harbaugh and his assistants were teaching on another part of the field.
After the session, I said to Harbs: "Talk about maximizing a practice. Core exercises for the guys not in the drill?" John smiled: "Didn't have anything to do with it. They did it on their own – and they were competing at it."
Have to love that. These guys love to compete, and that's what I expect they'll do at a very high level in San Diego. Let's beat the Chargers.
Talk with you next week.
*Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.