Ravens Must Beat Dolphins to Get Back into Playoff Mix
We're only nearing the midway point of the season and the phrase "must-win game" is already being used in Baltimore as the team prepares for Thursday night's contest against the Miami Dolphins.
After dropping four of the last five games, that's the situation the banged-up and undermanned Ravens have found themselves in.
If they want to keep up in the division and/or wild-card race, the Ravens need to turn things around quickly.
"At 3-4, the Ravens are already clinging to slipping playoff hopes," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Jeff Zrebiec. "They are two games behind the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC North and only three AFC teams — the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Cleveland Browns — have worse records."
CBS Sports' Will Brinson is calling Pittsburgh the most complete team in the NFL as they improve every week, and the Ravens can ill-afford to go down three games after already losing the first head-to-head matchup. Baltimore also doesn't want the gap to widen with the rest of the AFC wild-card contenders, including Miami.
The good news is* *a Thursday night victory would keep Baltimore in the thick of things.
"A win Thursday and the Ravens would be right in the playoff mix," Zrebiec wrote. "Only seven of the 16 AFC teams will take a winning record into Week 8. The mass of mediocrity provides hope, as should a relatively favorable schedule.
"After the Dolphins game, the Ravens face the up-and-down Tennessee Titans, and after a bye week, they have a road matchup against the Green Bay Packers, who have lost their franchise quarterback, Aaron Rodgers."
The bad news is, the Ravens have yet to find a solution to their NFL-worst ranked passing offense (157 yards per game) and surprising 32nd-ranked rushing defense (allowing 145.3 yards per game). They have to solve the problems on a short week too.
Yes, quarterback Joe Flacco has historically played well against Miami, winning all five games he's played against the Dolphins by throwing nine touchdowns to three interceptions.
Yes, the Ravens are 5-0 on Thursday Night Football under Head Coach John Harbaugh.
And yes, Miami is the only NFL offense that's worse than Baltimore's 31st-ranked unit. It's looking like the Dolphins will be without quarterback Jay Cutler (cracked ribs), who the team lured out of retirement to replace the injured Ryan Tannehill.
"Of course, the opposing quarterback is wholly irrelevant if the Ravens don't soon fix the same problems that have cropped up every week and are threatening to derail their season," Zrebiec wrote.
The Ravens know that. They made it very clear while speaking with the media.
There's still hope, but the winning must start now.
"It has to stop as quickly as possible and that would lead to this Thursday," Flacco said after Monday's practice. "We have to get this thing going to the point where we're putting up points and putting our team in position to win football games. It doesn't matter how we do it, but we have to find a way."
Daaaang, Miami's Jarvis Landry is Fired Up
As the Ravens' frustration was understandably evident after Sunday's second consecutive loss, the Dolphins were on an epic high after coming back from 14 points down despite losing their starting quarterback.
Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was so pumped up that he pushed FOX Sports sideline reporter Peter Schrager while yelling, "Tell them to stop doubting us!"
In addition to fixing their passing offense and rushing defense, the Ravens will have to find a way to match the Dolphins' fiery momentum. The team has been through two quarterback injuries and Hurricane Irma that wreaked havoc on the city, and it's still 4-2 with a three-game winning streak.
"Resignation might be the Ravens' biggest opponent at this point," wrote WNST's Luke Jones. "Based on many of the post-game comments, they're fighting doubts over whether this will improve. Terrell Suggs sounded as despondent as I've ever heard him and summed it up by saying, 'Right now, we stink.' Indeed."
Jeremy Maclin and Breshad Perriman 'Doing Everything We Can' to Play
The Ravens' chances of improving the passing offense are hindered if the Ravens don't get back all or some of their top three receivers. Against the Minnesota Vikings, Jeremy Maclin (shoulder) and Breshad Perriman (concussion) didn't play Sunday, and Mike Wallace (concussion) was knocked out on the offense's second series.
All three were limited participants in practice Wednesday, but that doesn't mean they'll play. Maclin was asked if he and Perriman feel pressure to return after missing time already.
"Maybe from the outside looking in, but at the end of the day, me being the type of person that I am and him being the person he is, we're doing everything we can to get out there and play," Maclin told The Baltimore Sun's Edward Lee. "It's two totally different situations. He was in the concussion protocol, and I was dealing with my own issue. But I think we're trying to do everything we can to get out there and play."
By the third drive of Sunday's game, Flacco only had Michael Campanaro, Chris Moore and Griff Whalen as wide receiver targets. Whalen, who led the team in catches with four, was signed off the street just four days prior.
Campanaro didn't practice Monday because he suffered a shoulder injury against the Vikings.
"How ironic it is that a litany of injuries at wide receiver left Michael Campanaro as the No. 1 guy still standing [Sunday]," wrote Jones. "He's already set a career high for games played in a season, and I'm glad to see him stay on the field for an extended stretch.
"When Griff Whalen comes off the street to play 58 snaps, how do you expect anything different from this offense? Injuries don't forgive the poor organizational approach, but 'next man up' is merely a nice T-shirt slogan when an offense built to be average at best suffers this many."
Mike Zimmer Disagrees That the Hit on Wallace Was Illegal
The league suspended Vikings safety Andrew Sendejo for the hit that knocked Wallace out of Sunday's game. Sendejo will miss one game, without pay, unless he appeals and wins.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer didn't see the hit as illegal.
"I think the receiver took five steps after he caught the ball and I think [Sendejo] hit him with a glancing blow," Zimmer said, per the Minneapolis Star Tribune's Ben Goessling. "I know what [the officials] told me, but I'm going to turn it in and see what they say. [Wallace] established position as a runner, took two extra steps and Xavier [Rhodes] was trying to pull the ball out, which he ended up doing. The guy went down a little bit, but in my opinion he was a runner."
The league said the suspension was given because Sendejo "violently directed" his hit toward Wallace's head and neck area.
Sendejo was already fined $24,309 earlier this year for a Week 3 illegal hit on Tampa Bay Bucs tight end Cameron Brate.
AFC North News: Bryant Wants Out, No Suspension for Burfict, Thomas' Streak Ends
As the Ravens get ready for their Thursday night matchup, their three AFC North rivals have all been making national news.
Despite the Steelers' two-game winning streak, wide receiver Martavis Bryant is unhappy in Pittsburgh because of his diminished role.
After only notching one catch in Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals, Bryant deleted a not-so-kind Instagram post about his teammate and then didn't show up to work Monday. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported Bryant had a doctor appointment.
"No, he's not here," guard Roman Foster said of Bryant, per NFL.com. "I don't know what happened. I think he called in sick today. I don't know. I just wish he were here to answer his own questions. You can't throw that stuff out there on social media land and expect no forest fires behind it."
Here's the social media post Foster is referring to:
After deleting his original reply, Bryant clarified in another post, writing, "JuJu is the future and got great talent and is going to be one of the best to play this game," Bryant explained. "I want him to get his. I just want mine, period, point-blank. Ain't nobody did nothing to get me back. I worked my ass off to get myself back with no help and little support, period. In due time the process will show."
In other news, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell wanted to see Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict punished for kicking Bell's fullback in the facemask. But that reportedly won't happen.
And finally, I have to give respect to Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, whose 10,363 consecutive snaps streak on offense was snapped Sunday after he tore his left triceps. The amazing stretch will likely never be broken.