Baltimore bid its farewell to Ray Lewis with a fairly easy win over the Colts on Sunday.
Now the Ravens face a short week, a lengthy amount of travel, higher altitudes, and, oh yeah, the hottest team in football.
Baltimore heads west to Denver to take on the streaking top-seeded Broncos in the divisional round of the AFC playoffs Saturday at 4:30 p.m.
Denver enters the contest having won its last 11 games of the regular season.
“They’re a very well-rounded football team. I think they’re one of the more complete teams in the league,” coach John Harbaugh said. “They’re very good in all three phases. Obviously their offense is clicking on all cylinders, they can run it and they can throw it. They’ve got a premier quarterback, they’ve got playmakers outside. They’ve got really strong receivers outside. They do a great job of bodying up and pushing off and creating separation that way. Their offensive line is really good.
“Defensively, it starts with the pass rush. But they’re also playing good run defense. Two really good inside backers, two really good outside backers and some really physical guys inside. And they’ve got corners that can play. Special teams have played well. It’s a really good football team.”
The Ravens partially rode the charged atmosphere of Lewis’ final home game to their wild card victory. Would Harbaugh prefer the team put that emotion in the past or have it carry over into Saturday?
“We’ll probably build on that. I don’t really have an either/or on that because it’s probably yes to both of them,” he said Monday. “There’s probably an element that we’ll carry forward because you’re always building on what you are. Hopefully we take all the things that happened and we take it into that game emotionally and carry it with us.
“But this is a new game. It’s a whole new environment. It’s a whole new situation for us. So I think the slate is wiped clean in that sense. This will be a new challenge for us.”
As for the challenges the Ravens have ahead, let’s start with the short week.
Baltimore has to play the Broncos just six days after the first round, losing one day of preparation.
“It’s a big challenge because you just have one less day to get ready,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, they’ve been preparing for us for a week. I’m sure they prepared for us and the Colts last week, so that’s an edge. We just have to deal with it. It is what it is. It’s a good problem to have. We’ll attack it with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”
The next challenge is the altitude. Playing professional sports outdoors in the thinner air and elevation of Denver is always different, whether it’s homers in baseball or simple breathing in football.
Occasionally, teams have held individuals out of games played in Denver for health reasons, whether it be heart or blood conditions or the like.
So it adds a different dimension from playing in most venues, and the Ravens will have to prepare accordingly.
“There are some concerns about it. We have done our homework on that. We have a plan for that,” Harbaugh said. “We’re going to go out there the night before; we feel like that’s the best way to do it, to try to stay within a 24-hour window in the altitude. We’ve got some other advice for our guys, to take care of their bodies and be ready to go, but other than that, there’s not much more you can do. I think our team’s in very good shape, we’re going to be physically able to handle it.”
Then there’s the simple matter of facing the Broncos, who shellacked the Ravens 34-17 on Dec. 16.
Anquan Boldin said Sunday that he wants another crack at Denver. He’ll get his wish with the Ravens fielding a much healthier team than the last time they met the Broncos.
During the regular season, Baltimore played Denver without safety Bernard Pollard, linebackers Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, guard Marshal Yanda and tight end Ed Dickson. Barring an injury before Saturday, all should be on the field this time.
“It’s got to be a positive,” Harbaugh said. “We haven’t mentioned the injury thing. It’s not something our guys have talked about. The guys who went in there and played well this year, I’m really proud of the way those guys played. I think guys who went in there and played, played well.
“I don’t have the stats on this, but it’s hard for me to imagine a team who’s played more players than we have this year extensively. And we’re more full strength now than we’ve ever been all year. So it’s the right time to be healthy and I’m hoping those guys will have a big impact.”
The Ravens were never really in it the first time they played the Broncos, but they hope for a better showing Saturday.
“We believe we can compete better against them,” Harbaugh said. “Give them credit, they came in here and played a whale of a football game. They kept the pressure on us, all three phases and in the end they were able to extend the lead. That’s something that we’re going to have to do a better job of dealing with.”
Note: The Ravens cut former second-round pick linebacker Sergio Kindle from their practice squad Monday.
Kindle’s career never got off the ground after head trauma suffered from falling down two flights of stairs before the start of his rookie season.
He had initially been removed from the 53-man roster when Terrell Suggs was activated in October. Now, he’s out of the organization entirely.
“That was a conversation that was between Sergio and I, and I think most of it should remain private. But it was positive,” Harbaugh said. “It was kind of mutually agreed upon between the two of us. It was nothing that he did or didn’t do. I still, I told him, I have high hopes for Sergio. I really do.
“He’s a guy that he and I have gotten real close. I feel some responsibility for him and really want to see him do well. I really think he’s got a chance to be good in this league, and just in the future, we’ll be there. I’ll be there to support him and we’ll do what we can to help him. He’s hoping for an opportunity somewhere where he can maybe take the next step.”
The Ravens haven’t yet filled his spot on the roster, but Harbaugh said he hoped to do so with a linebacker or offensive lineman.