Playoffs? Not Just Yet

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The Ravens' Dec. 7 matchup with the Washington Redskins has been shifted from 1:00 to 8:15 p.m. via the NFL's flex-scheduling practice.

Head coach John Harbaugh barely noticed.

Following Baltimore's convincing 36-7 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Ravens had a lot to be excited about. They improved to 7-4 and retained possession of one early Wild Card spot in the AFC playoff race.

But while Harbaugh and many of the players acknowledge that they are "in the hunt," the Ravens are focused solely on their upcoming opponent.

Not on the Redskins and definitely not on what may come in the way of a postseason bid.

As the exhilaration of Sunday's victory wears off and players ease back into the reality of their showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals – in addition to the Thanksgiving holiday – Harbaugh is steering his team along the singular course that has worked all season.

"Any excitement you feel is tempered by the fact that you've got a challenge in front of you, because that excitement goes away pretty quick when you don't go out and play up to your capability on a Sunday afternoon," Harbaugh said in his Monday press conference. "No matter what happens next Sunday afternoon, we want to be a better football team next Sunday than we were last Sunday.

"That's our responsibility as a football team, and that's what we need to do. We feel like if we do that, then you can look back at your body of work and say, 'OK, this is how we got there.'"

That is about the most forward-looking statement Harbaugh will offer.

Of course, the reality is that a strong showing in the first three months of the season has positioned Baltimore to create its own destiny.

The Ravens have scored at least 27 points in each of their last five wins, with much of that coming in the second half. During those contests, Baltimore averages 19.8 points in the second half, while opponents have scored 7.6 points over that time.

Even in a 30-10 Week 11 loss to the New York Giants, the Ravens were driving to make it a one score game in the third quarter when quarterback Joe Flacco tossed his second interception to cornerback Aaron Ross, who returned it 60 yards for a touchdown.

"What exactly is it?" Harbaugh hypothetically asked. "Killer instinct, belief in one another, trust, confidence… I think good football players and good football teams, if they'll stay at what they're doing and not make mistakes as a game wears on, that they'll find a way to win a game at the end. Our guys have done that, for the most part.

"Against the Giants, I felt like we were coming on a little bit at the end of the third quarter, so that's something we have to take with us for the next five weeks."

His mantra has filtered down to the locker room, where the players are doing their best to keep the "P" word from their vocabulary.

After all, the Ravens are wary about glancing too far ahead on the schedule. Baltimore followed a 13-3 campaign in 2006 with a disappointing 5-11 season last year – which eventually led to the dismissal of longtime coach Brian Billick and ushered in the Harbaugh era.

Being so far out of the 2007 playoff chase has steeled the Ravens' attention.

"Just keep taking care of one team at a time, one week at a time," stated linebacker Terrell Suggs

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. "At the end of the season, if everything goes to plan, we'll see where we are.

"But first things first, we've got to handle our business. We control our fate, pretty much at this point. So let's just go at it."

From Day One, the Ravens have said they're building a team that can be a force in winter months, when their stellar defense, ranked second in the league after only allowing 262.3 total yards per game, and fourth-rated rushing attack (143.5 yards per game) can break the will of their opponent.

That's what happened when they sabotaged Eagles quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Kevin Kolb for two interceptions apiece, in addition to a lost fumble from McNabb.

It's what happened when 260-pound fullback Le'Ron McClain

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broke off a bruising 28-yard run up the middle to set up his game-clinching 1-yard touchdown plunge late in the fourth quarter.

And it is that mentality which gives the Ravens a chance – at the very least – to compete in January.

"We know we're in the hunt," Harbaugh said after the Eagles contest. "Our guys understand that, but our focus is on Cincinnati. Our focus is on going to work on Monday, and trying to become a better football team than we were today.

"Really, that's what you do in November and December, to have a chance to be a playoff football team."

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