Ravens Know They Need to Finish the Season Like They Have Finished Games


The Ravens' chances of making the playoffs are good – around 90 percent.

But Baltimore doesn't need a reminder that it must finish the final quarter of the season strong if it wants to 100 percent accomplish its goals this time around.

The Ravens can simply turn on the TV, where the NFL Network has been showing Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown's "Immaculate Extension" from last year's Christmas showdown during seemingly every commercial break.

That game knocked the Ravens out of the playoff hunt and crowned the Steelers AFC North champions. Consequently, it helped steer Baltimore's offseason decisions, which have led them back to this point again, ready to go to Pittsburgh's Heinz Field for Sunday Night Football.

The Steelers can clinch the AFC North with a win or tie on Sunday. The Ravens are looking for a big win over their rivals, which would go a long way in punching their postseason ticket and give them a confidence-building marquee win.

"We definitely feel like we are equipped to go out and finish these last four games off," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "This is the biggest one because it's now, because it's Pittsburgh. This will do a lot for us."

Heading into the final quarter of the season, the Ravens have the same record this year as they did last season – 7-5. The Ravens dropped three of their final four to finish 8-8.

Last year's final stretch also began on the road against a big rival, the New England Patriots. Baltimore lost a tight one in Gillette Stadium, falling 30-23 on a long touchdown pass in the final minutes.

The Ravens' Christmas loss in Pittsburgh played out in similar fashion with the Steelers marching down the field in the final minutes to score on Brown's 4-yard touchdown with nine seconds left.

In both games, Baltimore's secondary broke down and the pass rush didn't bail it out. It also corresponded with the loss of top cornerback Jimmy Smith, who went down with an ankle injury. Now, Smith is once again out because of a torn Achilles.

So, will the Ravens write a different story this time? They spent much of their offseason making sure, with a focus specifically on finishing.

The Ravens signed ultra-durable veteran Brandon Carr, and he's been as good as billed or better. He has been healthy, effective and is now the cornerbacks' veteran leader.

Baltimore drafted cornerback Marlon Humphrey in the first round, even when other offensive needs may have seemed like a higher priority. Humphrey, who has been excellent all season, will now take over for Smith as a starting corner.

The Ravens drafted a pair of rookie pass rushers, Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, to help them get after the passer late in games when the veterans may need a break. Both ramped up their defensive snaps last week and could be in store for more.

Even though the Ravens are in an eerily similar situation to last year, they feel much better suited to close out the season strong.

"We have set ourselves up a lot for these last four games to be meaningful and have a high impact on our postseason chances," Flacco said. "We have gotten it done a lot of times and obviously there has been a year or two where we have not gotten it done."

Before closing became a mantra for the season, it was stressed in games. The Ravens have answered the call.

Baltimore has been the best fourth-quarter team in the NFL this season. The Ravens have scored 111 points and surrendered just 44, a differential of 67 points. Only three other teams have a fourth-quarter differential of 40 points or more: Seattle Seahawks (58), Jacksonville Jaguars (41) and Detroit Lions (40).

"If we can play the fourth quarter of the season, as well as we've played the fourth quarter of games – we'll be very happy with that outcome," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's what we're really striving to do."

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