A frequent question being asked is how the Ravens will respond to a substantial layoff. Not only did the Ravens have a first-round bye, but eight starters rested Week 17 – Lamar Jackson, Brandon Williams, Mark Andrews, Ronnie Stanley, Jimmy Smith, Earl Thomas III, Mark Ingram III, and Marshal Yanda.
Jackson admitted Tuesday that it "feels like it's been forever" since his last game action on Dec. 22. But Jackson says the team benefitted from the break, and he's not worried about the Ravens performing like a rusty team Saturday night against the Tennessee Titans.
"Every playoff game is like the Super Bowl," Jackson said. "It's do or die, it's win or go home. I'm good. The team's good. I'm just trying to win it all."
Jackson started last year's playoff loss slow, going just 2-of-8 for 17 yards in the first half against the Los Angeles Chargers. He said one thing he learned from that game is you "can't start too late. You have to attack fast."
Thus, Jackson can't let rush affect him this time. He said he got in some extra time throwing with wide receiver Willie Snead IV last week during the bye, just to make sure to get the rust off, and he's been treating practice like it's a game.
Thomas scoffed at the notion that rust would be the Ravens' undoing.
"That's what practice is for," Thomas said. "You get the rust off at practice, get your eyes right, your technique, your alignment and all that stuff right. Then the game is muscle memory."
Getting the most out of their practices has been a point of emphasis. Players said that time spent on the field has been intense, featuring trash-talking between the offense and defense.
"(That was) Lamar trying to stir a little something up, make it competitive," Thomas said. "We were just having fun with it."
The Titans played a physical game last weekend, but they will arrive in Baltimore with momentum after upsetting the New England Patriots on wild-card weekend. Head Coach John Harbaugh remembers the Ravens' playoff run in 2012, when they won four playoff games to capture the Super Bowl without the benefit of a bye. Harbaugh is glad the Ravens earned a break, but he also said that playing every week can be an advantage.
"You keep that edge," Harbaugh said. "You're kind of going week to week. There's not time to breath or think about anything. I absolutely think that can be a plus. It has been for us in the past. We've been pretty good on the road over the years in the playoff times, historically. So, there's certainly something to that, and we're well aware of that on the other side of it."
But the Ravens have handled almost any situation well this season – short weeks, long weeks, bye weeks, holiday weeks. That's why they finished 14-2. Thomas has been on a Super Bowl-winning team with the Seattle Seahawks, and he believes this Ravens have the right mindset to come out of the bye ready to ball out.
"I think we're locked in," Thomas said. "I don't think we need to do too much talking. I think we already understand what our goal is, we've been talking about it all year. We've been playing lights-out. Fine-tune what we need to focus on, and I think we'll do really good."
Second-Year Ravens Feel More Prepared for Playoffs
When the Ravens lost their playoff opener to the Los Angeles Chargers last year, Baltimore had five rookies who were playing regularly – Jackson, tight ends Mark Andrews and Hayden Hurst, right tackle Orlando Brown Jr. and running back Gus Edwards. All off them played roles in helping the Ravens reach the playoffs, but Brown admitted the postseason atmosphere was more than he expected.
"I was a little bit overwhelmed," Brown said.
That is not how Brown feels this year. He feels ready, eager to make a deep playoff run. Other second-year Ravens feel the same way.
"Last year, there were so many young guys on our team," Andrews said. "It's hard to be ready for that. It's such a long season. Guys' bodies started getting kind of worn down.
"There's no sense of that this year. It's a hungry team. It doesn't feel like we're top dog. It feels like we're still fighting, working every day to get better. So there's no complacency on our team. A lot of teams, you win all these games and you start feeling good about yourself. There's none of that here."
Giants Reportedly Have Next Head Coach; Browns Vacancy Remains
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale have drawn interest as head coaching candidates, but with the Carolina Panthers reportedly hiring Matt Ruhle and the New York Giants reportedly hiring Joe Judge, the Cleveland Browns are the only NFL team still looking for their next head coach.
Martindale interviewed for the Giants job, but said it would take a "dream-type job" scenario for him to leave the Ravens.
The Browns interviewed Roman on Saturday.
It remains to be seen which direction the Browns will go, but Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels is still available and has widely been linked to the Browns, who are expected to make a decision by this weekend.
Snead Wants Ravens to Start Fast Offensively
It's no secret the Titans want to control the football and pound the Ravens with running back Derrick Henry. But if the Ravens start fast offensively and build an early lead, it may force the Titans to abandon their running game as the progresses.
Ravens wide receiver Willie Snead IV said the offense is focusing on starting quickly and taking care of the football.
"We've got to score every time we touch and protect the football, no turnovers," Snead said. "I feel like that's how we lost last year in this situation, turnovers. They want to run the ball. We have to take advantage of our possessions and score touchdowns."