3 & Out: Ravens control their playoff destiny
Coming off an emotional, physical 22-20 win over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving night, the Ravens must guard against any letdown when they welcome the 3-8-1 Vikings to M&T Bank Stadium on Sunday.
That shouldn't be a problem, especially given the Ravens' precarious position in the playoff chase. The Ravens (6-6) sit in the sixth and final AFC playoff spot for now, but with five other teams within a game of them, every game carries huge significance.
“I don’t think there is any chance of (a letdown)," quarterback Joe Flacco said on Wednesday. "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."
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Said coach John Harbaugh: " To me, we have to bring our ‘A’ game every single week in the National Football League."
In Harbaugh's tenure, the Ravens have gone 5-6 immediately after a Steelers game (in the regular season), including 2-1 at home. This year, they had a bye after the first Steelers game and then lost at Cleveland coming off the bye.
Linebacker Jameel McClain said many liken beating the Steelers to the euphoria of winning a college rivalry game, but he wasn't sold on the comparison.
"It’s the NFL. We know coming into next week it’s going to be a good team," he said. "We beat the Steelers; that’s that. That’s in the past, and now we’ve got to move on. So, I don’t think it’s difficult to come back from the physicality of it – your body needs time to heal – but fortunately we got that time. We got a little break.”
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Indeed, the extra time off after Thanksgiving should help a team that was -- as usual -- banged up after the Steelers game. Jimmy Smith, Elvis Dumervil and Brandon Stokley were among those hurt in the game, but Smith (concussion) was medically cleared and returned to practice on Wednesday, as did Stokley. Dumervil (ankle) did not practice.
But the sense of urgency that is driven by the crowded playoff race should be enough motivation for the Ravens -- as will the challenge of facing the best running back in the game in Minnesota's Adrian Peterson.
" He’s a threat every time he touches the ball, so we’ll have our hands full," Harbaugh said. "But it just can’t be that. You can’t sleep on the rest of their talent. They’ve got a number of very good tight ends that can make plays. They’ve got a number of very talented receivers that can make plays. They are a fully-complemented offense, talent-wise.”