The Minnesota Vikings might be 3-8-1, sitting in the NFC North basement, but the Ravens spent this week talking like a team that won’t be overlooking the final sub-.500 squad on the schedule.
The Ravens are coming off big season-boosting wins over the Jets and Steelers, which makes it logical to think they might not take a last-place team quite as seriously. Quarterback Joe Flacco sure doesn’t expect that to be the case after the victory over Pittsburgh.
“I don’t think there is any chance of that,” Flacco said. “It was a big win, and it was one we needed, but this is the same thing. There is no real difference in this game. We’re a 6-6 football team fighting for a playoff spot, and we need to win the rest of them, and it starts with this one right here.”
As Flacco said, the Ravens have won two in a row and three of four to get back to .500 at 6-6. But the AFC playoff picture remains muddled with nine teams owning records between 6-6 and 4-8.
Baltimore is in control of whether it will make the postseason, but could forfeit that right with one loss. So the team still has to win, making the Vikings game as big as almost any other the rest of the way.
“It’s like (Winston) Churchill said, ‘Our fate is in our own hands.’ And it’s up to us to write the rest of the story. Hopefully when it’s all said and done, they will say that this was our finest hour,” coach John Harbaugh said, filling reporters’ notebooks with history references. “I expect that to be written, keep writing, that’s right. Those aren’t original.”
Like Flacco, Harbaugh doesn’t think he has to worry about the Ravens overlooking Minnesota.
“I don’t believe our team has ever really looked at things like that,” Harbaugh said. “Over the years, you don’t always play your best games, but I don’t think there’s been a pattern of the record of the opponent we’ve played against. To me, we have to bring our ‘A’ game every single week in the National Football League. But all you have to do against this team is look at the tape. All you have to do is look at the tape. (The Vikings have played) a number of very close games.
“They’re very well-coached. And it’s nothing to show our guys the tape for them to see what a challenge we have in front of us. We understand where we are, we understand what’s at stake, we understand what’s at stake for us, so there is no way in the world that those thoughts would ever, ever be anywhere near us.”
The Vikings enter Sunday having gone 2-1-1 over their last four games for easily their best stretch of the season. Among Minnesota’s eight losses, three have come by four points or fewer.
Minnesota struggles defensively, ranking 30th in the league in yards allowed, but its rushing attack and overall offense are formidable.
On the Ravens’ side is the fact that they traditionally play well at this time of year, going 32-16 in November and December in six seasons under Harbaugh. On top of that, Baltimore has improved in close games of late.
The Ravens have won two of their last three decided by three points or fewer since dropping three of their first four such contests.
“Last year, it was flipped a little bit, and we kind of got it going in January, as you know. Not giving your opponent opportunities to beat you - that’s the main thing,” Harbaugh said of the tight contests. “That’s where it starts. And too many times in those close games, we gave our opponents plays that they really didn’t earn, and it ended up being the difference in the game.”
Even though the Vikings have had difficulty stopping opponents, the Ravens are wary and don’t expect a letdown.
“It’s interesting,” Flacco said. “They’ve had a lot of big plays on them. I think they’re a pretty solid group overall. They’ve got a really good front seven, and they’ve got some guys in the secondary that can run and play. They are a relentless front; they really come after you. That’s the other thing - they haven’t had a ton of sacks, but they’ve really moved the quarterback around a lot and made him move and got him off point. They’re a good defense. I think if they hadn’t had a couple of the big plays on them, I think some things would show a little bit differently. We’ve got to come in there, and we’ve got to be focused and ready to go.”