The Ravens' 48-3 victory over the lowly Detroit Lions may be getting downplayed because of the level of competition, but Sunday's game embodied a trend that might mean a second consecutive playoff appearance under head coach John Harbaugh.
With Harbaugh at the helm, the Ravens have consistently won against clubs over which they are favored.
Not once during Harbaugh's tenure has Baltimore lost to a non-playoff team, a pattern the Ravens hope continues as they face three teams with sub-.500 records to close out the regular season.
Last year, the Ravens dropped battles with the Pittsburgh Steelers (twice), Tennessee Titans, Indianapolis Colts and New York Giants. All four of those opponents advanced to the postseason. The Ravens defeated two other playoff qualifiers in the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, while they were a perfect 9-0 against teams that didn't play in January.
And that carried over to the 2009 campaign, where the Ravens' six losses – against New England, Cincinnati, Minnesota, Indianapolis and Green Bay – have all come against division leaders and likely playoff representatives.
"I just think that comes back to the simple rules of the game of football," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "Win the games that you're supposed to win at home, split the games on the road and beat the teams that you're supposed to beat."
The Ravens' attention to detail currently has them just outside of an AFC wild card, behind the 7-6 Denver Broncos and Jacksonville Jaguars. But, if the Ravens continue to beat who they're supposed to, January football could easily be a reality.
Next week, the Ravens face a Chicago Bears team that has disappointed many, even though the Bears do feature dangerous quarterback Jay Cutler. Then, it is a second matchup with the Steelers before a finale in Oakland.
Rest assured, the Ravens will take all those opponents – against whom they are likely to be favored – seriously.
"We understand and realize that we from this point on, we're on a three game playoff, and we have to win these three games so we're going to enjoy this [win] but get back to work," said wideout Derrick Mason. "We understand that we can't have any letdowns. Yes, it was great to go out there and score 48 points and shut that team down to three points and have all these yards, but we understand that it means nothing if we can't come back and duplicate it the next following week."
Harbaugh and his coaching staff consistently work to ensure that the players take all rivals seriously, which has guarded against the classic trap game.
No matter that the Lions were coming off a winless 2008 and limping down the stretch without a hapless offense and a defense without any teeth.
The Ravens went out and manhandled Detroit in all aspects, tying a franchise record with 48 points and nearly posting a shutout.
Conversely, the Steelers, who are hovering on the playoff bubble at 6-7, have run into their share of traps this season, losing to the Cleveland Browns (2-11), Kansas City Chiefs (3-10) and Oakland Raiders (4-9).
Harbaugh said there was no special message in the Ravens' ability to take care of business. Instead, practice is the key.
"It's not a message that we really say, 'OK, now this is a team that everybody thinks we're supposed to beat, so let's make sure we beat them,'" Harbaugh noted. "I think it's a message that you go out, you practice hard, and you try to put your best foot forward against everybody you play. Our guys, one thing about our guys thus far, they haven't let down in any week.
"There are better performances some weeks than other weeks, but I don't think you'd ever say that our guys haven't gone out and played tremendously hard and fought right down to the end for two years now. That's something that's a credit to them. It's a credit to our coaches, and it's a credit to our players. If that's the result of it, then so be it, but we want to beat everybody we play, and that's always the goal."
Inside the locker room, the Ravens had the utmost respect for the Lions.
"You've got to respect every team," said linebacker Jarret Johnson. "This is the NFL. If you think this is college and you're Alabama playing Carson-Newman, it doesn't work out like that. Everybody's got talent, and you've got to prepare the same way every week."