The weather is colder, but the AFC North race is about to get hotter.
The Ravens (7-3) are in first place, but the entire division is nipping at their heels heading into Sunday night's game against the Cleveland Browns (6-5). The AFC North is the only division that has four teams with winning records, with the Bengals (6-4) and Steelers (5-4-1) also right in the thick of things.
Five of Baltimore's final seven games are against divisional opponents – two against Cleveland, two against Pittsburgh and one against Cincinnati. What happens from this point will make or break Baltimore's season, and safety Chuck Clark said the team is approaching Sunday night's game with a sense of urgency.
"First, it's going to be a tough and physical game," Clark said. "To us, we know it's like a championship game for sure. We're trying to win the division. You've got to beat the teams in your division."
The Ravens were soundly beaten in their only AFC North game this season, losing 41-17 to the Bengals in Week 7. There's no way Baltimore wants to go 0-2 in the division, and Harbaugh knows the Ravens haven't guaranteed themselves anything yet, despite making the playoffs the past three seasons.
"No matter how you slice it, there's a lot of football to be played, and what's going to happen is going to be determined by how we play the rest of the way and how many games we win," Harbaugh said. "So, that's what we're focused on."
Ravens Must Keep Garrett and Clowney Duo From Creating Chaos
Every opponent wants to keep Myles Garrett away from the quarterback, but few are successful.
The Browns' All-Pro defensive end leads the NFL with 13, and keeping him away Lamar Jackson will be a top priority for Baltimore's offense. Just like Garrett's sack numbers suggest, he's a dominant player with the ability to take over a game.
Garrett is the main man for Cleveland's defense, but the offseason addition of Jadeveon Clowney (3.5 sacks) is another pass rusher Baltimore can't forget about. Clowney isn't as consistent as Garrett, but the Browns acquired Clowney for moments like Sunday night – a primetime game with major significance. The big stage often brings out the best in Clowney.
"They have two great edge players, and both of those guys are great players," Harbaugh said. "Aren't they both No. 1 picks in the Draft? I think so. We respect them both, both Myles Garrett and Clowney. [No.] 90 and [No.] 95 – we know their numbers, so we'll be looking for them. We'll have a gameplan for those guys, and we'll do our best."
Despite missing Sunday's game against the Bears, Jackson has been sacked more times (28) than any quarterback except Ryan Tannehill (31) and Justin Fields (31), and Tyler Huntley was sacked six times when he replaced Jackson in Chicago. Jackson said he has great respect for Cleveland's entire defense, but the focus starts with Garrett and Clowney.
"Those guys are flying off the ball, getting sacks, stirring up the offensive line," Jackson said. "Those guys are making great impacts in the game. We're just going to have to do a good job of protecting and blocking those guys. Their secondary is looking pretty good, as well. [Denzel] Ward is healthy. [He's] been playing tremendous this season. We've got to attack. We've got to play football."
Trace McSorley's Departure Leaves Void
The loss of No. 3 quarterback Trace McSorley, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals on Monday, leaves a void for Baltimore on and off the field. Teammates and coaches have great respect for McSorley, who was an asset in the quarterback room despite not seeing much playing time.
"Man, that's a smart guy, very intelligent guy," Jackson said. "He loved the game with a passion. I feel like he knows our playbook in and out. [He's] a great guy to be around, humble, and I love Trace. We're definitely going to miss him a lot."
The Ravens signed Calvert Hall product Kenji Bahar to the practice squad Tuesday, but while Bahar was with the Ravens during training camp, he has never played in a regular-season game. Should Jackson miss any more games, the Ravens would lack an experienced backup behind Huntley.
Harbaugh is happy McSorley is getting an opportunity in Arizona, but called his departure "bittersweet."
"He's a great guy, and he's good for our team," Harbaugh said. "So, that's the bitter part of it. The sweet part is that it's a great opportunity for him. He's going to get an opportunity to go there and have a chance to possibly play and be on the 53-man roster for the rest of the season. That's a big deal in a lot of ways. For our situation, it's a little bit of a hole we'll have to fill. We'll have to figure out how to do that real soon."
Joining Baltimore's practice squad is also an opportunity for Behar.
"He was working in South Carolina at a warehouse that his uncle owns, and boom – he's back," Harbaugh said. "He knows how we operate. He can run the scout team. He's a very good football player, and I think he's going to be a really good coach someday, too, if he wants to do that."
Chuck Clark Says Complicated Defensive Scheme Isn't Reason Why Ravens Are Being Burned
Giving up big plays has been a major issue for Baltimore's defense all season, including their last game when scoring plays of 60 yards and 49 yards almost cost the Ravens a victory in Chicago.
The Ravens have dealt with multiple injuries this season, and with players going in and out of the lineup, some fans have asked if the Ravens need to simplify some of their defensive schemes. When that theory was relayed to starting safety Chuck Clark, he wasn't buying it.
"No, I don't think they put more on our plate than we can handle," Clark said. "Before we go out there, we always make sure that everyone is comfortable with it and what we have going on. So, I don't think they give us more than we can handle."
Clark says a lesson can be learned from every mistake. He doesn't believe the issue can't be solved.
"That's where it comes back to us being real with ourselves in the meetings, fixing what we can do and what we have to do to get better," Clark said. "It's just like, 'Alright, I have to move on to the next one and keep going so it doesn't turn into something worse.''