It was a happy Ravens locker room Saturday night, but their focus remained clear. That's a good sign for them. They still have unfinished business.
Saturday night's impressive 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers put the Ravens in better playoff position and put the AFC on notice. However, it did not clinch a playoff spot.
The Ravens (9-6) have already turned their attention to the regular-season finale, Dec. 30 at M&T Bank Stadium against the Cleveland Browns. Baltimore will likely need to defeat Cleveland to make the playoffs, either as a wild card or as champions of the AFC North.
If the Ravens beat Cleveland, this season could be special. If the Ravens lose to Cleveland, their season could be ruined by missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year.
Just in case anyone forgot that, veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs delivered a reminder following Saturday night's game.
"This a big win for us. But we've been here last year," Suggs said. "We won in Week 16 last year as well. It doesn't matter if we don't win next week."
Suggs brought up last year without prompting, referencing the heartbreaking fourth-and-12 home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 17 that cost Baltimore a playoff spot. In 2016, the Ravens were also eliminated in late December in brutal fashion, edged by the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas night.
The last time the Ravens won in Week 17 was in 2014, the last time they made the playoffs.
Who was the opponent? The Browns. What was the Ravens' record in 2014? They finished 10-6, the same record they will have if they beat Cleveland on Sunday.
As well as Baltimore played in Los Angeles, Head Coach John Harbaugh didn't call Saturday a defining moment. The coaches and players have not worked this hard, come this far, to fall short of the playoffs again. How the 2018 regular season is defined can't be determined until the outcome of the Browns' game.
"We feel like we need to win, that's it," Harbaugh said, before using a motto made famous by longtime Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis. "We feel like we need to win and that's been our thing. Just win baby. I think a well-revered football man said that.
Beating the Browns will be difficult. Cleveland defeated the Ravens in overtime in Week 5, 12-9, and the Browns have improved since then. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball like rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield, rookie running back Nick Chubb, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive end Myles Garrett.
The Browns have played well under interim Head Coach Gregg Williams and they would love to spoil the Ravens' season. Suggs has cautioned his teammates not to let up, but he likes how the Ravens have played recently, winning five of six games since Lamar Jackson became the starting quarterback.
The Ravens are playing inspired football and they have been opportunistic. Tavon Young's 62-yard touchdown run after he recovered a fumble forced by linebacker Patrick Onwuasor essentially sealed the game Saturday night. It was one of three turnovers forced by the Ravens, who are now pressurig opponents into mistakes with the league's No.1-ranked defense.
"We're finally cashing in," Suggs said. "We had opportunities earlier in the season to get turnovers and we just didn't get them. Now is more important than ever. You want to play your best football in November and December. We've had a pretty good December."
The Ravens would love to have a successful January, but they can only accomplish that by making the playoffs. With one game left on their schedule, the Ravens are determined to come down off Saturday night's high – quickly. Nobody is dwelling on the past, but the Ravens remember it. Preparing to face Cleveland is getting their full attention.
"We have to win next week," Harbaugh said. "That's what we're thinking about. That's all we need to think about right now."