The Ravens returned to work Monday in Owings Mills after taking a brief breather to rest up with the open date on the schedule.
Coach John Harbaugh welcomed his players back to gear up for a road matchup Sunday at Cleveland, a team about as unpredictable as you could find.
"It's been a good few days. We got back to work today, we had practice today, meetings this morning, guys came back," Harbaugh said. "Everybody was here on time, ready to go, working hard with a lot of enthusiasm, so that was fun and exciting. Looking forward to the challenge in front of us in the form of the Cleveland Browns, a tough divisional foe that's playing really good football in a lot of different ways. We're just getting ready to go play a football game on Sunday in Cleveland."
The Browns have been wildly inconsistent, starting the season with two straight losses, following with three consecutive wins (including one over Cincinnati) and then losing the three games since to fall to 3-5. But Cleveland is coming off a competitive defeat to the 8-0 Chiefs, who led 13-0 and 20-7 before holding on for a 23-17 win.
So the Ravens come out of the bye not quite sure what to expect out of the Browns.
"Really, the only thing that's changed is the quarterback," Harbaugh said. "They've been looking for that answer, obviously. The offensive line continues to improve, they've been protecting the passer better and better and gotten healthy in there. They've got an athletic bunch that does a good job. They did a good job against Kansas City. Kansas City's got a good pass rush and they held them to one sack. Thought they did a good job with the run, they were a little more spread out than they had been earlier, they're three wide, they're opening up a little bit run and pass.
"But really, a hard-playing bunch. Defensively, they're the same defense and better. They're a legitimate NFL quality defense. It's a good football team."
This will mark the end of a stretch where the Ravens played just one home game in six weeks. Baltimore is 1-3 during the first four games of that run and is also 1-3 on the road this season. The silver lining is that the Ravens wrap the season with five of their last eight contests at M&T Bank Stadium.
Baltimore has a chance to get back to .500 with a win in an integral game against an AFC North foe. The Ravens need to win their division games now that they're trailing the Bengals by 2 1/2 games and lead the Browns by just a half-game.
"They're all critical. Every one of these games is critical. I don't care if it's division or not division. They're all lynchpin games as far as I'm concerned," Harbaugh said. "Every time we play a game in my mind is make or break as we go into it. When the season's over, that will be determined, which games were and which games weren't. But we feel like we've got to go win this game, just like we felt we had to win the last one. We didn't get it done, so we've got to go win this one. We've got to get it done. At the end, we'll see where we stand. The race is what it is now, but it's where it stands after 16 games that matters, and that's what we're looking forward to."
Harbaugh also addressed the Ravens' newest addition, former Bengals running back Bernard Scott, who signed Monday.
"We played him in Cincinnati and he's got all those skills," Harbaugh said. "He's kind of a perimeter runner - not that he won't run between the tackles; he will, but he's a speed guy on the perimeter, a pass-catcher out of the backfield and he's always done a pretty good job with pass protection as well. He's a threat. He's a dangerous guy. He's a guy that can take it the distance really at any time. We saw him practice today. He looked good, had a good start. We'll see where it goes."
With running backs Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce both having dealt with injuries this season, could Scott play a role immediately?
"I think we'll just play it by ear. We'll just have to see how it plays out," Harbaugh said. "It's hard to say, but we're going to get him ready as quickly as we can and there's no reason he can't be ready, going up to speed very rapidly."
Scott joins a team that hasn't played since a 19-16 loss at Pittsburgh and will be looking to get on track at Cleveland.
Harbaugh acknowledged that the bye arrived at a good time.
"I thought it was good. I thought we had a good couple days off," he said. "It was good to get some time away with their families. The midseason rest is always good. You get a chance to get your legs back, get your chance to get your body healed a little bit. Those are positives of the bye week. That's the great thing about it, so yeah, I think it was a plus for us and I'm looking forward to seeing how we respond in terms of how we play."