A host of rookies are playing key roles in the Ravens' playoff push.
At the forefront are starting quarterback Lamar Jackson, starting running back Gus Edwards, starting right tackle Orlando Brown Jr., and tight end Mark Andrews, and others have been key role players.
The rookies take pride in the impact they've had. As the Ravens prepare for their biggest game of the season Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, they're hoping to help push Baltimore over the edge.
"Yeah, there's no doubt," said Andrews, who scored on a momentum-changing 68-yard touchdown from Jackson against the Chargers.
"I think right away, the older guys, and even us, we saw that we can make an impact on this team and that's what they brought us in to do. They were close last year; they were one game away [from a playoff berth]. So they brought us in here to win this last game. That's what it's all about: contributing."
Veteran right guard Marshal Yanda appreciates what the rookies have done – even if it makes him feel old.
"I did notice sometime this year that we had a lot of rookies in the huddle," Yanda said. "When (Michael) Crabtree's not out there, I feel like a dinosaur – a bunch of kids out there. It's a good thing to see young guys contributing."
Andrews (30 catches, 498 yards, three touchdowns) has been consistent, showing no sign of wearing down in his first NFL season. While Brown did not become a starter until Week 7, and Jackson did not start until Week 10, Andrews has seen regular snaps since Week 1.
"Fortunately for me, I haven't hit a rookie wall or anything," Andrews said. "But I think they do a great job here of knowing how our bodies feel. Just the older guys take the younger guys under their wings and showing them how it's done – that's really what it's all about.
It was wise for Andrews to say he feels good. Head Coach John Harbaugh is not a fan of the so-called rookie wall.
"The rookie wall is a phantom. It's a mirage," Harbaugh said Monday. "It's a figment of your imagination or whoever thinks there is a rookie wall. The only walls in life are the ones we build ourselves. If there's a wall, we're climbing over it or getting around it, whatever. There's no wall.
"You get a good 10-hour sleep, you're fresh and ready to go the next day. For an athlete – you need at least eight hours for a normal person – an athlete needs 10 hours of sleep. Get in bed, get ready to go and have a great day. Let's go. That's true for a rookie or a veteran. What difference does it make? That's my theory; I'm sticking with it."
Harbaugh's decision to play multiple rookies this season has paid off. The 2018 rookie class will be remembered as one of the franchise's most productive, especially if they can help Baltimore finish the season on top.
"All of those guys that you're talking about have maintained their position by playing well," Harbaugh said. "That's kind of how it works. It's always competitive, and the rookie class has done a really good job and been very productive for us, so we're happy with that."
Veterans Know Playoff Opportunity Can't Be Taken for Granted
Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr has made the playoffs three times during his 11-year career, playing in four games and winning one. Safety Eric Weddle has only reached the postseason three times in a 12-year career.
Sunday's game is huge for all the Ravens. But for veterans who have not experienced the postseason often, the stakes are even higher. Carr said the sting of being eliminated from the playoffs in Week 17 last year against the Cincinnati Bengals will help fuel him.
"We all have our own motivation," Carr said. "I only have a few playoff games in my 11 years, so I have a lot of added motivation with that, but definitely, last year doesn't sit well with us. We had a prime opportunity to extend our season, and we failed at it. We didn't finish the job, so that's why this year, the art of finish is big for us. Just finding ways to win this game by any means necessary, emptying your tank, giving it your all, and then we'll reload for next week once we get there."
Weddle has grown tired of hearing about what the Ravens didn't do in 2016 and 2017. He believes the Ravens are a better team in 2018.
"It's a different year, I've been saying that all along," Weddle said. "Everyone can talk about the past. That's your guy's job. We'll focus on now and finishing the right way."
Browns Have Improved Since Ravens Saw Them in Week 5
With five wins in their last six games, the Browns (7-7-1) have found a groove under interim Head Coach Gregg Williams. The play of quarterback Baker Mayfield has justifiably received plenty of attention, but running back Nick Chubb, who only had three carries against the Ravens in October, is now a featured back with almost 1,000 yards (972).
Williams sees the Browns playing with more confidence as they enjoy success. The Browns beat the Ravens, 12-9, in overtime in October, so they have reason to be confident, especially considering how they have played lately.
"It's always better when you win, and people are a lot happier that way," Williams said during a conference call. "I think you feel like you're putting in the time and energy, and you feel great about coming away with the win. Our guys have done a very good job of blocking out a lot of different things, and I've been really proud of how hard they've played and how fast they've grown."
Browns DE Myles Garrett Will Get Plenty of Attention From Ravens
Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett has blossomed in his second NFL season with 12 ½ sacks. The 2017 No. 1 overall pick, Garrett will pose a challenge for the Ravens' offensive line.
Ravens left tackle Ronnie Stanley and Baltimore did well against Garrett in the Week 5 matchup, limiting him to ½ sack.
"I think he's a potential game-wrecker, very talented guy," Harbaugh said. "All the talent you saw in the draft, you see it when he plays. He's a big, physical fast guy that you have to account for on every play, and he's a guy that we will have an understanding of where he's at on every play."