The Ravens are down to one more chance. Win or lose, whether their season goes on for another week or two or three or more depends on Sunday, and coach John Harbaugh seemed to be wearing that pressure like an uncomfortable suit in his Monday presser.
Baltimore is far from cozy heading into the regular season finale at Cincinnati, and preparation for the latest most important game of the year is now under way.
“It’s a one-game season as far as we’re concerned,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve kind of been in this mode for a few weeks now, so we’ve been in a lot of tough fights over the last four, five, six weeks. This will be an extension of that.”
The Ravens win, and they need help. They lose, and they also need help.
“The guys know the scenarios. They’re not living in a vacuum, so they understand what else has to happen,” Harbaugh said. “But our job and our task is one single-minded purpose, is to win the next game. Obviously we have everything at stake and Cincinnati’s got much at stake, too. Not everything - they’ve got the division and they’re in the playoffs - but they’ve got some seeding issues that they’re playing for. So it’s going to be a highly contested game. It’s going to be a tough fight.”
As of now, the Ravens have no one ruled out for the contest, but defensive lineman Art Jones is undergoing concussion protocol.
Quarterback Joe Flacco emerged from the loss to New England with no further damage to his left knee, and Harbaugh expressed that it isn’t more of an issue than anything other players are enduring.
“I can’t think of one player who’s 100 percent and Joe has played every single play the whole season,” Harbaugh said. “So he’s definitely not 100 percent on that knee. To say how much, or to what degree, is just impossible to say. He fought through it, he gutted it out, he battled. That’s what you do this time of year. That’s what makes Joe who he is.”
Harbaugh spent a decent amount of time Monday-quarterbacking in his latest session, looking back at some of what transpired in the 41-7 defeat to the Patriots.
One topic that went unaddressed Sunday was why the Ravens decided to go for a 37-yard field goal when trailing 20-0 in the fourth quarter. Justin Tucker missed it, snapping a streak of 33 straight field goals and leaving the Ravens still scoreless.
Harbaugh admitted he would’ve taken a mulligan on that call.
“If I had to do that one again, I would’ve gone for that (on fourth down); I would’ve gone for that one, too. I would’ve gone for all four (fourth downs),” he said. “So looking back on it, the situation in the game - we had just gone for the one previous to that that was on the 4-yard line with the flip-and-go. Obviously, this is fourth-and-5 on the 20-yard line with five yards to go.
“So it’s a little bit different during the flow of the game. I think I felt differently about it at the time with the rhythm of the game. But looking back on it, I would agree with anybody that feels like we should’ve gone for that. We should’ve gone for that.”
Was Harbaugh thinking any momentum the Ravens could grab at that moment would be positive?
“I think part of it and then there’s a lot of things that go in your mind,” he said. “I wanted to make sure - what happened was we got stopped the previous time with the idea that you’re inside the 5-yard line. And when you go for it inside the 5-yard line, your chances of forcing them to punt the ball back to you, get the ball almost in field position and at least get that field goal right back if not a touchdown is what you’re thinking.
“So the thinking there was, ‘OK, that’s exactly what happened. We’ll get that field goal back, be within 17 and we’ll have a chance here.’ And if you look at the opportunities down the stretch, especially in the red zone, we had a chance to get back in that game throughout that first couple of sequences there at the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter. But we didn’t do it, so if I had to do it again, I would’ve gone for it.”
The Ravens’ red-zone defense, which entered the loss ranked fourth in the league, let the Patriots score touchdowns in all three trips inside the 20-yard line.
Harbaugh was understandably unsatisfied with that performance.
“I just don’t think we’ve played as well enough down there,” he said. “We haven’t gotten the stops we need to get. We’ve gotten a few too many yards running the ball at times on us as you saw in this game. You don’t expect somebody to run the ball in on us down there like that, especially the defense we were playing. It should never have happened. And they made some plays in the passing game.”
The Patriots also made a concerted effort to take away tight end Dennis Pitta, who was held to four catches for 34 yards. Pitta had five catches for 55 yards and a touchdown in the Ravens’ AFC championship victory at New England last season, so the Pats know how much he means to the Ravens.
“The Patriots, we call it a hit-call. But they pretty much had guys whenever he was at the line within striking range of the box, defensive ends came out and took shots at him,” Harbaugh said. “I think they were hitting him pretty much every opportunity within five yards on crossing routes and things like that. So they did quite a bit to keep him under control.”
There weren’t too many topics Harbaugh wanted to discuss at length Monday, but he did express that the short week of preparation from last Monday’s victory over Detroit to facing the Patriots Sunday afternoon had an adverse effect.
“I did. We felt it. We fought through it all week as best we could,” Harbaugh said. “Our guys were excited to play and I thought the effort was there. They fought like crazy, but we just didn’t have enough juice to pull it off. It’s a legitimate factor. If you go back and look at the numbers and those kinds of things, it’s true. But you have to overcome it. It’s part of the deal. Everybody has scheduling issues that they have to deal with in the National Football League.”
And with the loss, the Ravens now could really use a win in Cincinnati.
But if there’s any adjective that fits this year’s team, it’s “resilient.” After losing three straight games to fall to 3-5, Baltimore won five of the next six, including four in a row leading up to Sunday. The Ravens will now need to bounce back again, and Harbaugh likes his team’s ability to do that.
“It’s part of who we are,” he said. “If you’ve been watching us all year, you would know that. You’d understand that about us - over the last six years, you’d understand that about us.”