Ravens getting better at the right time

Ravens getting better at the right time
November 29, 2013, 10:45 am
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Jacoby Jones explains Tomlin play to Brent Harris


The Ravens will enter December a better football team than they were a month ago. It follows a familiar recipe under coach John Harbaugh. Get stronger as the season progresses. Make the playoffs. Play your best football when it matters most.

That does not mean the Ravens (6-6) are certain to make the playoffs. But after their thrilling 22-20 victory over the Steelers on Thanksgiving night, the Ravens have regained their swagger. They have won three of their last four. Their offense, defense, and special teams are all making key plays. In the locker room, it no longer sounds like the Ravens’ season is slipping away. It sounds like the team is building momentum at the right time.

“This train is getting ready to get smoking,” said cornerback Chykie Brown, who successfully defended Emmanuel Sanders, on a potential game-tying two-point conversion late in Thursday night’s game. “This is when teams finish. It’s getting cold. Playoff weather. Who’s going to step and be the real horses? When the season gets deeper and deeper, you need to get stronger and stronger. I have a feeling that’s what we’re doing.”

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Playing on Thanksgiving gives the Ravens extra time to regroup, before their Dec. 8 home game against the struggling Vikings (2-8-1). Win that game, and the Ravens would crawl above .500 for the first time since Week 3. Instead of being stymied by their inability to run the football consistently, the Ravens are finding ways to work around it, such as:

- Jacoby Jones has been a huge spark, both on special teams and as a receiver. Jones hurt is knee in Week 1, missed a month, and was not 100 percent when he first returned. But having Jones at full speed lined up with Torrey Smith gives the Ravens what they had last season, two of the NFL’s fastest receivers who are a threat to strike from anywhere on the field.

- Ray Rice is more involved in the passing game. Rice caught six passes Thursday night for 38 yards, including a long gain of 22 yards. Not overwhelming numbers, but at least throwing the ball to Rice more gives him a chance to operate in open space. The Ravens’ offensive line is still not opening running lanes consistently. However, some of Flacco’s passes to Rice are basically long handoffs that give Rice more room. Rice averaged 6.3 yards per reception, which was far better than what he has averaged on the ground. Look for Joe Flacco to keep looking for Rice more frequently as a receiver.

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- Brandon Stokley got in the mix, and Dennis Pitta should be on his way. It was unfortunate Stokley injured his knee in the second quarter Thursday and left the game. He had already made two catches for 27 yards, both for first downs. He tested the knee after he was injured, but could not stay in the game. There was no immediate word on Stokley’s availability for the Vikings game. However, if he can get back on the field he could be a valuable possession receiver down the stretch. The same goes for Pitta, who is expected to return list next week. Pitta has missed the entire season following hip surgery, but he and Flacco have great chemistry. His presence would give opponents another receiver to worry about.

Not only are the Ravens alive for a wild card berth, they could still win the AFC North, especially if the Bengals (7-5) lose at San Diego on Sunday. Plenty will be decided over the next four weeks. But by becoming a better team, the Ravens have given themselves plenty to play for.