OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Now that they’ve finally wrapped up another AFC North crown, the Baltimore Ravens intend to get healthy, close out the regular season with a win and take some momentum into the playoffs.
Baltimore (10-5) snapped a three-game skid and clinched its second straight division title Sunday with a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No matter what happens in this Sunday’s finale against Cincinnati, the Ravens will host a first-round playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6.
But coach John Harbaugh won’t let Baltimore coast into the postseason. After watching Baltimore click in all phases against the Giants, he’s looking for an encore against the Bengals.
“That’s how you improve, that’s how you get you better,” Harbaugh said Monday. “Momentum, sure it’s a good word. What does that mean exactly? It means that we’re improving. The idea is we have plenty of things to work on, and we’ve got to continue to improve to be the best we can in the playoffs. This week is an opportunity to do that.”
If Baltimore wins and New England loses to Miami, the Ravens get a No. 3 seed and open the postseason against Cincinnati. Harbaugh said he knows all the possibilities — and doesn’t really care.
“We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board as far as where that could shake out on Sunday,” he said. “But there’s no way to say for sure what’s going to happen, so we’ll just have to see how it plays out.”
If the game is blowout, Harbaugh will consider removing some of his starters. But he’s not counting on that happening.
“The biggest thing is that you can’t play this game at half speed. Our guys are going to play the game full speed to win,” he said.
The Ravens are 4-3 on the road, so this could serve as a tuneup for potential games at New England, Denver or Houston.
“It’s a plus for us, an opportunity to go play on the road like this in a real tough environment,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a rivalry game, it’s in the division. These two teams play it out pretty good every single time. So yeah, it’ll help us build up our callouses a little bit for the playoffs.”
Prior to Sunday’s win over New York, the Ravens appeared to be regressing after a 9-2 start. Their losing streak began with three-point losses to both Pittsburgh and Washington and ended with a 34-17 embarrassment at home against Denver.
Against the Giants, however, the Ravens scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, led by 17 at halftime and never let New York back into it.
“We’ve been practicing really well throughout the course of the last four weeks,” Harbaugh said. “At some point in time it’s going to show itself on the field on game day. It was our best overall performance, I think. It was the best we’ve done at putting all three phases together and playing well. We blocked, we tackled, our playmakers made plays. We didn’t turn the ball over. We didn’t do the things that cost us and hurt us like we did in the other three games.”
Quarterback Joe Flacco, who had six turnovers during the losing streak, threw for 309 yards and didn’t give the ball away once. If he and the Ravens play like that in the postseason, Baltimore will be dangerous.
“I said last week we’re going to see what kind of team we are. We believe we’re this kind of team,” Flacco said after the Ravens’ dominating performance. “We’re really going to see if we are. I think that we showed ourselves and we showed people that we are that kind of team. We’re here to stay, and we just have to do all we can to get better, to play like this, and even get better than this throughout the remaining weeks.”
One reason for the Ravens to give their all this Sunday is that it’s another chance for the offense to get in sync with coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron two weeks ago. The Baltimore attack sputtered against Denver in its first foray under Caldwell, then racked up 533 yards against New York.
“That’s the way we can play,” said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who returned from a concussion.
Baltimore won’t have linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) against the Bengals because Harbaugh wants to give the 17-year veteran more time to recover from an injury that has kept him sidelined since Oct. 14.
But the Ravens hope to have back safety Bernard Pollard, who’s missed two straight weeks with a chest injury, and receiver Anquan Boldin, who left with a bruised shoulder in the second half against New York.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)