The Ravens certainly understand the importance of their game against the Cincinnati Bengals Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.
“This is kind of the end-all, be-all game,” defensive lineman Brandon Williams said Wednesday.
If they win, they’ll qualify for the AFC playoffs for the first time in three years. If they lose, they’ll need help from other teams to make it and nothing is guaranteed.
“It means so much,” Williams said about Sunday’s season finale.
But if you’re expecting extra pep in the Ravens’ step this week because they’re in a “win and you’re in” scenario, you’re going to be disappointed. It’s not that they aren’t excited about the possibilities. They just feel as if they’ve been in the same situation for quite awhile now.
“For us, over the last four or five weeks, it’s been that ‘win and you’re in’ mentality,” tight end Benjamin Watson said. “We’ve understood that it’s important for us to win every single week, especially in December, late in the season. Although this is the next opponent and the most important game right now for us this season, it’s kind of the mode we’ve already been in, understanding the urgency of ‘right now.’”
What happened, according to Williams, is the players stopped and took stock of their situation after they lost to the Tennessee Titans on Nov. 5 to give them a 4-5 record heading into their bye-week break.
“We had to re-evaluate, go back to the drawing board, put everything into perspective and focus on what we had to get done,” Williams said. “We had a seven-game season (left). We took it upon ourselves, looked at each other in the eye, and we were honest with each other: ‘we have to play better.’ I feel like we got that done.”
Since they re-assessed their circumstances during the bye and effectively told themselves they couldn’t afford many more defeats, the Ravens have won five of six games to surge to the top of the AFC wild-card race.
“Now we’ve got one more game to wrap it up,” Williams said. “It’s a big game; pretty much let’s us know if we’re going to be on the couch next week or on the field. We definitely don’t want to be on the couch.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco agreed that the Ravens have been in “win and you’re in” mode for several weeks, resulting in a more businesslike approach to Sunday’s important game.
Asked if he felt any added urgency as he prepares for the Bengals, Flacco said, “It’s all just normal stuff that you deal with getting ready for the game.”
But the quarterback did admit it helps knowing the team controls its fate and can make the playoffs with a win, as opposed to having to win and also hope another game or two breaks right.
“Honestly, this is a lot easier,” Flacco said. “In the past, when we’ve been in a ‘win and you’re in’ situation, we’ve been very, very positive. And I know we feel the same way about this game.”
Basically, it’s just another big game for a team that played itself into a corner at midseason and has navigated a fine line ever since.
“We definitely know what it’s like to come down to the end of the season and have everything stripped from you in one week, and after the Tennessee loss, we didn’t want to be in that position again,” Williams said. “This is the definition of ‘finishing’ right here.”