Eisenberg: Ravens Make Things Hard For Themselves

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There's a big difference between those two scenarios. If anything, as the playoff picture has crystallized, it's become clear just how much the Ravens potentially sacrificed when they lost control of the division race with that excruciating loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 5.

They could make up that lost ground Sunday with Cleveland's help, but the chances are slim.

The Browns have played decent, hard-nosed football at times in 2010, but they looked worn out in a 20-10 loss to the Ravens last Sunday. They're going to need some big returns from Joshua Cribbs or some goofy bonehead stuff from the Steelers to have a chance.

Also, let's face it, if you've followed the Ravens -- this year or any other – you know they typically don't make things easy for themselves.

They have a ton of positive qualities that have enabled them to reach the playoffs three straight years and seven times in the past 11 seasons – a record almost any other team would gladly take -- but they almost seem to prefer doing things the hard way.

It's almost as if Mark Twain (probably a Jets fan if he were alive today) had them in mind when he wrote, "Few of us can stand prosperity."

The Ravens have previously entered the playoffs twice as the AFC North winner, earning a first-round home game in 2003 and a first-round bye and second-round home game in 2006 – prosperous circumstances, indeed. But both times, they immediately lost at home.

Meanwhile, in each of the four previous times they've gone in as a wild card, facing indisputably tougher circumstances, they've won at least one game and forged an impressive overall 8-3 record.

A psychologist could easily conclude that they like the hard road, as opposed to easy street.

This year's team certainly seems that way. No one would accuse them of having made their lives easy. They've blown nine fourth-quarter leads, played three overtimes, needed timely turnovers to outlast losing opponents such as Buffalo and Houston. "We always make it exciting," running back Ray Rice exhaled a few weeks ago.

Yet with an 11-4 record, they're putting together one of the best regular seasons in franchise history.

They're frustrated that, despite that success, they're likely facing the same, long January road they faced a year ago when they stumbled into the playoffs as a 9-7 wild card. But so it goes.

"We had our chance (to control their destiny). We didn't get it done," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said.

But they're so used to settling for the hard road that it doesn't faze them. In fact, they almost seemed comforted by it.

"We're built for it," said linebacker Ray Lewis about the prospect of having to go on the road in January, possibly for three straight weeks.

For better or worse, it's who the Ravens have become – the hard-edged team no one else wants coming to their town; the road warriors who go into loud, intimidating places and, win or lose, battle fiercely.

This year alone, they've beaten the Jets and Steelers on the road, taken a 10-point lead into the fourth quarter at New England and staged a three-touchdown rally in Atlanta.

Now, unless they get help from the Browns (and beat Cincinnati themselves) they're looking at what, for them, would be an enormous psychological challenge – going into Indianapolis and playing the Colts, who haven't lost to the Ravens since 2002.

But while they obviously would rather have a first-round bye and second-round home game, they'll be at home on the road, where they always seem to land, if that's their fate.

John Eisenberg *covers the Ravens for Comcast SportsNet Baltimore. He worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.*

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