OWINGS MILLS – Rejuvenated after halting a frustrating losing streak, the Baltimore Ravens were aware of the potential consequences if they hadn’t toppled the previously undefeated Denver Broncos.
Without their 30-7 victory Sunday to snap a three-game skid, the Ravens’ prospects to make the playoffs would have grown even tougher.
Now, the Ravens (4-3) are primed for a pivotal rematch on the road against the Cincinnati Bengals (5-2) roughly one month removed from a last-second loss in Baltimore keyed by a series of late defensive penalties.
The Ravens trail the Bengals and the Pittsburgh Steelers by one game in the AFC North.
“We understood where we were as a team,” veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said Monday. “There was no panicking, there was no pressure. We just felt that we needed to finish out games. We had to start fast and end fast.
“The three games previous, we either did one or the other, either started off slow and had to play catch-up or kind of started off fast and then fizzled out toward the end. Pressure? No, but we understood that in order to keep ground with the two teams in front of us we had to win this game.”
With the Ravens’ dominant showing against a Broncos team that entered the game as the NFL leader in scoring defense, and third-down defense, the three defeats to the Bengals, Minnesota Vikings and the New England Patriots by a total of 11 points portray a team that’s capable of going on a run like last year’s surprising march to the AFC championship game.
Of course, that’s assuming that the defensive improvement displayed against the Broncos (200 net yards allowed) and a balanced offense with 175 passing yards on 25 throws and 125 rushing yards on 35 carries is more than a one-week development.
As far as coach John Harbaugh is concerned, there’s no mystery to what transpired.
“We have a good football team,” he said. “The Denver Broncos are a very good football team, and so are the Baltimore Ravens. Our guys played well, and I thought we did a lot of things right.
“When you do a lot of things right, that tends to multiply itself into good things happening that help you win a game. That’s really what happened.”
There was a lot for the Ravens to be encouraged about during a win over the Broncos and rookie coach Josh McDaniels, the leading candidate for NFL Coach of the Year.
There was outside linebacker Jarret Johnson’s crushing sack of Kyle Orton on the very first play from scrimmage.
There was rookie cornerback Lardarius Webb’s 95-yard touchdown jaunt on the opening kickoff of the second half.
The Ravens shut down Pro Bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall and the Broncos’ running back tandem of Knowshon Moreno and Correll Buckhalter.
Oft-criticized kicker Steve Hauschka, Matt Stover’s replacement, calmly booted three field goals after missing a potential game-winner against the Vikings.
And the Ravens smothered dangerous return man Eddie Royal one game after he ran back a punt and a kickoff against the San Diego Chargers.
The Ravens aren’t about to get cocky, though.
“Every game stands on its own,” Harbaugh said. “Every game is its own entity. Whatever success or failure you have one week does not guarantee or ensure anything for the next week.
“Our guys are excited about the fact that they played well against a very effective offense, but we’re going to line up against really effective offense on Sunday. That presents a challenge for us.”
The Ravens lost every game in October after an undefeated September where many pundits were labeling them as a Super Bowl dark horse.
The truth probably was found somewhere in between the extremes of beating up on the Kansas City Chiefs and the Cleveland Browns and surviving against the Chargers and the late-game breakdowns that defined their setbacks against Cincinnati, New England and Minnesota.
“You can never get too high,” said cornerback Domonique Foxworth, who played a large role in holding Marshall to an inconsequential four catches for 24 yards. “We’re not going to go back and think we’re the ’85 Bears after this game. We have a lot to get better on and we feel confident about it.”
Against the Broncos, the Ravens’ efficiency on offense coincided with the defense’s renewed ferocity.
Quarterback Joe Flacco calmly completed 20 of 25 passes to tie Elvis Grbac’s franchise record with an 80-percent completion rate while running back Ray Rice gained 84 yards and scored one touchdown on 23 carries.
“I think we know what kind of team we have, and we know we are capable of doing this kind of thing,” Flacco said. “For us not to come out here and play hard would be pretty embarrassing.”
The win sets the Ravens up well as they have upcoming road trips against Cincinnati and the Cleveland Browns (1-7) before squaring off with the Indianapolis Colts (7-0) and the Steelers at home.
“We know they are going to be really excited about seeing us coming in there, trying to go two up on us in the division,” middle linebacker Ray Lewis said in a reference to the Bengals. “The bottom line is, we understand what’s in front of us.”
During the bye week preceding the Broncos game, the Ravens didn’t exactly take a vacation.
The coaching staff and players put in long hours to address the problems that cropped up during the three-game slide.
That included spending time looking at the loss to the Bengals.
“We probably looked at the Cincinnati game from the perspective of what it was going to mean for us as a football team,” Harbaugh said. “That’s what we had to find out, what did we do in that game, and what do we need to grow from and get better at. We didn’t really look at it from a game-planning perspective.”
Now that the Ravens are coming off a win, the question remains:
Can they keep it up?
“We got off of that skid,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “Now, maybe we’ve got to get this thing to snowball.”