OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens are on the verge of making the playoffs for the third consecutive year, an accomplishment that hasn’t mollified fans alarmed at the problems surrounding a team that often makes winning into a high-wire act.
The Ravens (9-4) have squandered eight fourth-quarter leads this season and fell apart in the second half of a 31-28 overtime victory over the Houston Texans on Monday night as a three-touchdown lead evaporated.
Although the Ravens acknowledge they have issues, they’re not pushing the panic button.
"We could be worse," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "We could be Buffalo. We could be Cincinnati, in a bad situation. We could basically be out of the playoffs right now. You can’t satisfy everybody. Obviously, we want to come into this upcoming week undefeated just like everyone else in the NFL wants to be.
"The reality is it doesn’t happen that way. Some weeks you play well, some weeks you don’t and some weeks you skate by like this last week. I can understand the fans’ frustration, but they have to look at the big picture. Where are we as a team. We’re 9-4. We’re still in the playoff hunt."
As Mason noted, the Ravens are in position to be the fifth playoff seed in the AFC if the season ended today.
They are a game behind the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) in the AFC North after last week’s costly 13-10 loss at M&T Bank Stadium.
"Stop being a pessimist, be an optimist," Mason said. "Look at where we’re at as a team and be happy with that. Be content with where we are, be happy with where we are. It could be a lot worse. You can be a fan of the Buffalo Bills and not be able to root for your team or be able to buy a playoff ticket.
"You’re able to buy a playoff ticket because we’re in the position that we’re in. I understand where they’re coming from, the fans, but they’ve got to understand as bad as they feel, we feel even worse. We’re out there. We see the mistakes we’re making and we know they can be corrected."
The Ravens’ defense allowed 393 passing yards and 489 yards of total offense against the Texans.
"You can ask anybody across the league, what’s the most important stat right now that they care about?" safety Ed Reed asked reporters on Wednesday. "Whether it’s passing for 300- or 400-yards and lose? You rather win ugly or lose pretty?
"It doesn’t matter how many leads we’ve blown. At this point, we’re 9-4, trying to get the next one. Everybody is fighting to get in the playoffs."
Mason emphasized that he’s not being insensitive to fans’ suffering through nail-biters.
"Please don’t think that I’m not sympathetic to how they’re feeling," he said. "But they got to understand as players we are more critical of ourselves than anybody else we’re out there and playing do we want to go out there and have a fourth quarter lead and hold onto it and blow teams out. The reality is a lot of times it doesn’t happen. Luckily, we pulled it out we could have been coming back from Houston without a victory."
HEAP REMAINS A QUESTION MARK: Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap didn’t practice Wednesday and is still dealing with a pulled hamstring that could affect his status for Sunday’s game against the defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans Saints.
Heap pulled his right hamstring on the first offensive play of a 13-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It’s a little better every day," Heap said.. "It’s one of those things where you got to take it day to day. It’s a day to day thing and we’ll see how it feels as the week continues."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh expressed hope that Heap might be able to return this week after being sidelined against the Houston Texans on Monday night.
"Yeah, I’m hoping he’ll be back," Harbaugh said. "Hamstrings you just never know about. He’s making good progress. We just have to see."
Mason (ankle) and safety Tom Zbikowski (back) didn’t practice.
Inside linebacker Tavares Gooden (calf) and cornerback Fabian Washington (hamstring) participated fully.
For the Saints, defensive tackle Remi Ayodele (ankle), defensive tackle Anthony Hargrove (knee), wide receiver Courtney Roby (head) and tight end David Thomas (knee) didn’t practice.
Offensive tackle Jermon Bushrod (ankle) was limited as well as running back Chris Ivory (hamstring), safety Malcolm Jenkins (rib), tight end Jeremy Shockey (groin) and linebacker Jonathan Vilma (quadriceps).
Cornerback Tracy Porter (shoulder) and tackle Zach Strief (knee) participated fully.
REED HONORED: Rookie wide receiver David Reed was named the AFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Reed piled up 233 kickoff return yards, including a franchise record 103-yard kickoff return for touchdown in the Ravens’ 34-28 overtime win at Houston. Reed’s kickoff return to start the second half surpassed Patrick Johnson (97 yards in 1998) for the longest in team history.
His 233 kickoff return yards are the second most in a game in franchise history behind Corey Harris’ 243 on Dec. 13, 1998.
Reed leads the NFL with a 29.9 kickoff return average.
"I would say so, anytime a young guy has success and is out there and makes plays," Harbaugh said when asked if Reed has improved. "David Reed has made plays on kickoff coverage. He’s had some pretty good success on kickoff returns. So, I think young guys are able to build on that."
The fifth-round draft pick from Utah was investigated by Baltimore County police for potential drug activity at his apartment last week, but wasn’t arrested or charged with a crime.
Reed could still be charged with a crime pending testing of evidence seized from the residence, according to police officials.
PLAYOFF SCENARIOS: The Ravens can actually assure themselves of a playoff berth this weekend.
For that to happen, the Ravens would need to beat the Saints combined with a loss or tie by the Indianapolis Colts and a loss or tie by the San Diego Chargers.
The Ravens can also make it if the Colts lose or tie, the Miami Dolphins lose or tie and the Kansas City Chiefs lose.
The Ravens can also make it with a tie along with a Dolphins loss or tie, a Chargers loss and a Colts loss.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Steelers can win the AFC North if they win this weekend and the Ravens lose.
The Steelers play the New York Jets this weekend and can also earn the strength of victory tiebreaker over the Ravens and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
RAVENS SIGN RAMSEY TO PRACTICE SQUAD: The Ravens signed offensive tackle Andre Ramsey to the practice squad.
The Ravens lost offensive lineman Colin Brown off their practice squad Tuesday as he signed with the Buffalo Bills’ active roster.
Ramsey tried out Tuesday along with offensive tackle Julius Wilson. He is a 6-foot-5, 322-pounder who played collegiately at Ball State where he was an all-conference selection.
Ramsey, 23, has played for the Seattle Seahawks, Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets.
The Jets cut Ramsey from their practice squad on Dec. 8.
QUICK HITS: Punter Sam Koch leads quarterback Joe Flacco in the championship of the players’ hotly-contested cornhole tournament. Koch won the opening two games in a best-of-five series. The Ravens have been playing the game since the offseason and it has become a popular pastime in the locker room. Flacco made it to the finals by beating reserve safety Haruki Nakamura. Harbaugh forecasted a win for Koch. "Sam Koch has a little more time on his hands," Harbaugh said. …
Veteran defensive end Cory Redding had never played on a winning team, but now he has achieved that status in his eighth season in the NFL. He once played for a winless Detroit Lions squad. Redding had a big game in his hometown against the Texans with a sack and a season-high five tackles. "He’s excited about being in the playoff chase," Harbaugh said. "This is the first time in his career that he’s really had an opportunity to play meaningful games in December. He’s talked to guys about that and how valuable that can be. Sometimes, young guys will take it for granted. The only place they’ve known the last couple of years has been in the playoff chase. Then here’s Cory, been in the league eight or nine years, and has never been in it before. It means a lot to him." …
The weather forecast for Sunday is a projected high of 35 degrees. That will be a tough adjustment for the Saints, who play indoors in the Superdome. "I think everybody prefers a warm climate," quarterback Drew Brees said during a conference call. "It is what it is. Obviously, we know it’s going to be cold and probably windy and maybe snowy up there on Sunday. Whatever the conditions are, we’ll just have to adapt and adjust." … Harbaugh was noncommittal on whether the changes on the offensive line are permanent. Marshal Yanda is back at right guard with Oniel Cousins elevated to starting right tackle and Chris Chester replaced as a starter at right guard and being utilized as a blocking tight end. "I don’t have a bottom line on that," Harbaugh said. "We’re just going to try to keep doing the best we can to get guys out there. We have some good players. What you try to do with players is you try to find a way to put them in a position where they can help you. We don’t want to have guys on the team that aren’t contributing. There are things we can do better in every part of our team, including the offensive line, so we try to mix and match and move guys around if we have to, to find the right combination to do the things we need to do to be successful."