OWINGS MILLS – The Baltimore Ravens are on the verge of clinching a playoff berth with another win and have gained frontrunner status in their pursuit of the top seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
A victory over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday night assures the Ravens (10-3) of a spot in the postseason as at least a wild-card entrant, just as it would for the Pittsburgh Steelers (10-3) if they defeat the San Francisco 49ers.
And the Ravens are also positioned to claim the top seed over the New England Patriots, Houston Texans and Steelers if they win their remaining three games due to their superior strength of victory under the NFL tiebreaker formula.
It would be unprecedented in franchise history to be the top seed having previously ranked second five years ago.
“That’s the object, just to win the next game more than anything,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “If that happens, we pretty much know where the chips are going to fall. So, we try to control what we can control. Obviously, we’ve got a big challenge this week.”
As the Ravens chase their playoff goals, they struck an elusive balance offensively Sunday during their 24-10 win over the winless Indianapolis Colts.
They ran the football 37 times for 146 yards and a touchdown and passed it 31 times for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
“I just think we’re playing good team football,” said running back Ray Rice, who rushed for 103 yards on 26 carries. “We were cooking on all cylinders. We passed when we needed to pass it and ran when we needed to run it.”
Rice eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the third consecutive season, tying Jamal Lewis’ franchise record.
One week removed from gaining a career-high 204 yards on 29 carries during a win over the Cleveland Browns where Baltimore ran the football a franchise-record 55 times, the Ravens passed it nearly as many times as they threw it.
“I thought it was a good blend, absolutely,” Harbaugh said. “We were moving the ball, getting first downs.”
Flacco completed 23 passes.
Baltimore converted 7 of 13 third-down opportunities.
And they were successful on 3 of 4 red-zone shots with Flacco connecting on touchdown passes to rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta from eight and seven yards.
Rice ran untouched into the end zone on a six-yard score.
“We had some success in both,” Flacco said. “It wasn’t like we were getting stoned in the passing game and stoned in the running game, and had to pick between one. We were actually able to be successful in running the ball and in throwing the ball, and we did both of those.”
Ranked 14th in total offense, the Ravens are 13th in rushing offense and 15th in passing offense.
For the season, the Ravens have run the ball 376 times for 1,524 yards and 13 touchdowns.
And they’ve thrown it 466 times for 3,123 yards and 15 touchdowns.
“We want to be a great offense,” said Smith, who tied a Ravens record for rookies with his sixth touchdown of the season Sunday. “In order to do that, we have to run the ball, pass the ball, not have any penalties and be able to score in the red zone.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re working towards that. I think we’re still improving, but there’s a bunch of new people on the team, and especially, from Joe’s point of view, we’re still growing and getting a better feel for each other each and every week.”
The improved balance on offense bodes well for the Ravens as they attempt to make the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year.
“You’re always trying to gain momentum,” Harbaugh said. “You’re always trying to be as good as you can be and improve.”
The Ravens personify the term, home-field advantage, since they’ve won all seven of their games at M&T Bank Stadium this season and have won 17 of their past 18 home games.
“Championship teams, they don’t settle for what’s happening right now,” said Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who had three sacks and three forced fumbles Sunday. “Every week, they try to get better. We’re doing a lot of things good, but we have to correct things and get better at the things we’re not doing so well. We’re still not satisfied. This team is hungry.”
The Ravens acknowledge they’ve been watching scoreboards, but not to the point of distraction.
“We can get where we want to go, but all the stuff, all the external stuff, about playoff scenarios and what ifs, it doesn’t matter,” center Matt Birk said. “All we have to do is focus on our opponents this week.”