For players who are 30 and over, an opportunity to make the playoffs is particularly precious.
Defensive lineman Derek Wolfe won a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos five years ago, but he hasn't been to the playoffs since. Pernell McPhee was with the Ravens when they won Super Bowl XLVII following the 2012 season. But McPhee was out with an injury last season when Baltimore made the playoffs, and like Wolfe, he hasn't been to a postseason game since the 2015 season.
The Ravens can make the playoffs for a third straight season by defeating the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday, and neither Wolfe nor McPhee plan on wasting the opportunity. The chance to join a Super Bowl contender is a major reason why McPhee returned for another year and the 30-year-old Wolfe signed with Baltimore during the offseason.
"I've been just dying to get back to the playoffs," Wolfe said. "Every year, that's the goal. After you win a Super Bowl, if you don't go back, it doesn't matter. Everything that you did was just a waste. What are we doing here?
"I've had seasons in Denver, after winning a Super Bowl we went 9-7 the season after that, didn't make the playoffs, and then three years of just garbage. It's a blessing to be back here. I'm really grateful for this opportunity. I'm going to do what I can to make the most of it."
The 32-year-old McPhee suffered a torn triceps in October of 2019 and couldn't help the Ravens down the stretch or in the playoffs last year. This season, McPhee (34 tackles, three sacks) has been a mainstay on defense while bringing the intense leadership that makes him one of the team's most respected players. McPhee has one goal in mind – to win another Super Bowl. He plans on raising his game to another level from this point forward.
"Last year, I feel like I wasn't there to help lead on the field," McPhee said. "So, I thank God for giving me the second opportunity to come back and make the playoffs and get the chance to go out and lead.
"They say the winners are in December, but I truly believe when January comes, that's when the true football players show up and show out. I haven't played in a January game since 2015, so I'm really excited to play in a January game. Hopefully, I can show off my talent that I still have something left in the tank."
Will Justin Tucker Add Punting to His Duties?
With the possibility that punter Sam Koch (Reserve/COVID-19) may be unavailable Sunday, the Ravens could turn to Pro Bowl kicker Justin Tucker as their punter. Tucker is a superb athlete and he punted at Texas during college and averaged 40.5 yards on 155 career kicks.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton did not say who he expected to punt on Sunday, but he said Tucker punts occasionally at practice and would be ready if called upon.
"Justin does a lot of things, he's a man of many different talents," Horton said. "He's out there fooling around every day, giving Sam a hard time. It's a situation that we'll assess over the next couple days. I can guarantee you this. We'll be prepared for whatever situation arises."
The sure-handed Koch is also the holder on Tucker's field goal attempts, meaning another player would hold if Koch does not play. Mark Andrews has done some holding during training camp, and Horton indicated other players have practiced holding as well.
"We have some other guys that can go out there and get it done," Horton said. "Are they Sam Koch? Heck no. Nobody in this league is Sam Koch. He's the best at what he does."
Pass Rush Has Found Its Groove
The Ravens pass rush has come alive the past two weeks, with 11 of their 39 sacks for the season coming in the last two games. Not only are pass rushers like Matthew Judon and Yannick Ngakoue playing well, but the Ravens have jumped to early leads that have allowed their pass rush to tee off.
Baltimore would love to rattle Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen with its pass rush. But after being sacked five times Week 13 against the Miami Dolphins, Allen hasn't been sacked at all the past two weeks.
It's no coincidence that Cincinnati has won its last two games while keeping Allen upright in the pocket. If the Ravens can put Allen in obvious passing situations, it would improve their chances to get Allen before he releases the football.
During a 27-3 victory over Cincinnati earlier this season, the Ravens blitzed their defensive backs of then and had a season-high seven sacks against Joe Burrow, including one sack each by defensive backs Marlon Humphrey, Marcus Peters, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott and Jimmy Smith. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale may employ a different strategy this time, but rest assured he hopes the pass rush will find its way to Allen.
"The guy this week we're getting ready to play, he gets rid of the ball quick," Martindale said. "I know they're not going to let us do the same thing we did last time, so we're expecting more max protection and things like that.
"Playing with the lead, that also opens things up. Those guys, once they smell blood, you can see that they're getting after the quarterback."
Wolfe Wants to Stay With Ravens
Wolfe signed a one-year deal and can become a free agent after the season, but he doesn't want to go anywhere. With 49 tackles, Wolfe is just two shy of his career high of 51 tackles in 2016, and he has been an anchor on the defensive line, especially when Calais Campbell and Brandon Williams missed time due to injury.
Wolfe is enjoying his role with the Ravens, even though he's often doing the dirty work up front that hasn't freed him to rush the passer (one sack, four quarterback hits) as often as he did last year in Denver. When this season ends, Wolfe hopes is NFL future is with the Ravens.
"Obviously, I'd love to stay here in Baltimore," Wolfe said. "I feel like I have proven myself. When things got tough, we lost some guys, I was playing 60 snaps a game, playing at a high level, I thought. I know the sack numbers aren't there, but that's not what this defense requires me to do. This defense requires me to stop the run and create opportunities for other people to get sacks. I feel like I've done that. It's in their hands. I'll let my agent handle that. I'm just worried about winning this next game against the Bengals."