Having won five of their last six, the Ravens are focusing on their present opportunity, not dwelling on chances that slipped away.
The Ravens face another win-and-get-in situation Sunday, needing a victory over the Cleveland Browns to capture the AFC North.
The past two Decembers have ended in disappointment for the Ravens. Baltimore was in the same situation last year, just needed to beat the Bengals, who were out of the playoff chase, at home to get into the postseason. Instead, the Ravens were eliminated on a fourth-and-12 heartbreaker.
In 2016, the Ravens were eliminated on Christmas night, losing in the final seconds to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.
Head Coach John Harbaugh said players and coaches remember vividly how the past two seasons have ended. They don’t need to rehash it this time around.
“We all know where we’ve been, we don’t need to talk about anything. We’ve all learned from our past experiences – this year, last year, previous years,” Harbaugh said.
“The guys who weren’t here, they’re not going to understand it anyway until they experience it. The guys who were here, that drives us, certainly. You want to learn from those experiences, and when you have a gut-wrenching experience, a tough one like we had the last two years, you take those with you and it makes you stronger. It forges you as a person, as a competitor, so that’s what I expect.”
The Ravens can make the playoffs for the first time since 2014. They can also win the division and host a playoff game for the first time since the 2012 season, when they went on to win the Super Bowl.
“It’s not the top goal, but it’s definitely the first goal – we set it every year – is to win the division, to be division champions, and we’re playing a championship game on Sunday,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we put all that time in for. We’ve had to weather some storms and overcome some challenges and win some games, and guys have done a great job. We appreciate where we’re at. This is the opportunity that we wanted, and now it’s ours to go get.”
Harbaugh Says His Contract Is a ‘Non-Story’ With Playoffs Approaching
The Ravens announced Friday that Harbaugh would continue as head coach in 2019, and that talks are in the works to extend his contract that is set to expire after next season. Now in his 11th season, the Ravens’ winningest head coach can reach the playoffs for the seventh time in his tenure if the Ravens win Sunday.
Asked for his reaction to the contract news now that a few days have passed, Harbaugh shifted the focus away from himself.
“I think it’s a non-story,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just trying to win football games. We’ve kept it simple, kept it about football. Everybody is on a one-year deal. You’re on a one-week deal, as far as I’m concerned, in this league, players and coaches. That’s how we are. We get that. Players and coaches understand that. We don’t think too much about all of that. You try to go out and do your best the very next game, have the best day you can have, and that’s how we look at it. So, all that stuff is really not something that you dwell on or think about. There are a few other things to think about.”
The team had some fun announcing the news to the team. On the eve of Saturday’s huge game, Harbaugh asked a comedian to entertain the team in Los Angeles. The contract news gave the comic more material to work with. Harbaugh said both he and Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti were amused.
“It was part of his act,” Harbaugh said. “I mean, he just threw it into his act there. It was very funny how he did it. I wouldn’t want to risk embarrassing myself explaining how he did it. I don’t have that kind of talent. It was great. We had a guy who was great – he’s kind of become a friend. He was just really funny with all the guys – did a great job. He threw it in there and everybody got a big kick out of it – at my expense and Steve’s expense, so that was OK.”
A host of Ravens in recent days have said how glad they were to hear that Harbaugh would return.
“We love Coach Harbaugh,” said inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor. “We love his mentality, especially with our team. We love the way he gets everybody riled up. He’s an offensive coach, defensive coach and special teams coach. We love that about him.”
Rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson said he looked forward to gaining experience under Harbaugh.
“That’s pretty cool,” Jackson said. “He was the coach that was here when I got drafted and he’s going to be here while I keep excelling and keep improving, so yes, I love it.”
Jackson Getting It Done in the Clutch
The Ravens have responded well when trailing since Jackson became the starting quarterback six games ago. The latest example was Saturday night, after the Los Angeles Chargers took a 10-6 lead early in the third quarter. On the Ravens’ next possession, Jackson lofted a perfect strike to rookie tight end Mark Andrews, resulting in a 68-yard touchdown pass that gave Baltimore the lead for good.
A member of the media told Harbaugh on Monday that Jackson had the second-highest quarterback rating when trailing, and asked what it said about the rookie signal-caller.
“That’s a great stat, man!,” Harbaugh said. “I don’t know because I don’t care, and I haven’t thought about it. It’s really irrelevant to us. But it’s great for you guys to look at and study. Seriously, it just doesn’t matter to us. I don’t mean to downplay it because it probably says that, ‘Hey, Lamar can bring you back and makes plays just like the other guys do.’ I look at it from a team aspect.”
Harbaugh has talked numerous times about Jackson’ unflappable persona. Nothing seems to faze the 21-year-old quarterback.
“He’s a very poised player,” Harbaugh said. “He makes plays. He expects to make plays. He’s not afraid to go for it, so to speak. We want all of our guys to think that way.”
Ex-Ravens WR Breshad Perriman Hitting His Stride With Browns
Former Ravens first-round pick Breshad Perriman has found his comfort zone with the Cleveland Browns, with 13 catches for 295 yards and a touchdown in nine games. In the past three games, he’s had catches of 66, 63 and 31 (touchdown) yards.
The Ravens secondary will have to brace for the threat of a big play by their former teammate.
Perriman had a difficult three-year tenure with the Ravens due to injuries and lack of production (43 receptions, 576 yards, three touchdowns). The Ravens released Perriman before the season, but Harbaugh is not surprised to see the wide receiver flourish.
“Breshad’s playing very well,” Harbaugh said. “He’s made numerous big plays, he’s playing fast, doing a great job. He’s going to be a factor that we have to contend with for sure with our defense. He’s bringing what you always expected him to be able to bring to the table. He’s found that there in the last few weeks, and they’ve done a good job with him.”