Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has not felt this good about his team since the beginning of training camp.
The team is healthier heading into Sunday’s game against Green Bay and spent part of the bye week fixing the offense. As a result, Harbaugh is confident Baltimore is primed for a playoff run over the final seven weeks of the season.
“I never feel like we’re not going to go into [a game] and win, and if we play like we’re supposed to, we’re going to be running the clock out in the fourth quarter. And on a knee for the last two minutes – that’s the plan,” Harbaugh said. “So, it’s no different for the next seven games. That’s how we feel; we’re confident. We believe in our guys, and our players believe in themselves, and now let’s go do it. It lays out in a way that we expect to get the job done.”
Harbaugh also hopes the biggest challenges are behind him.
The Ravens got their first bad news hours before they even stepped onto the field for training camp in August. John Urschel, who was projected to be the starting center, unexpectedly decided to retire. Then, quarterback Joe Flacco had an ailing back issue and was ruled out indefinitely.
A few weeks later, second-year player Alex Lewis (shoulder) and rookie Nico Siragusa (knee), a fourth-round pick, went down with season-ending injuries, wreaking havoc on the offensive line. Running back Kenneth Dixon suffered another season-ending knee injury and was suspended by the league.
The hits continued to come when the season started.
Running back Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring in the season opener against Cincinnati, while Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda and defensive end Bren Urban were later lost for the season with foot injuries.
Despite those setbacks, the Ravens (4-5) trail the Buffalo Bills by just one game for the last spot in the AFC playoff race. The Ravens could get a boost Sunday against Green Bay with Woodhead, fellow running back Terrance West and tight end Nick Boyle back in the lineup. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley also had some extra time to rest an ailing shoulder.
As a result, Harbaugh sees a light at the end of a dark tunnel.
“I could probably stand up here and give you the politically correct ‘coach speak’ and say nothing changes, but I’ll be honest with you: I’m excited,” Harbaugh said this week. “I’m excited for the fact that we have our offensive weapons back – the ones that are still with us. I feel like we are as full strength … We are more full strength than we have been all year.
“We finally have a chance to be full strength, and that kind of goes back to your question about Danny [Woodhead]. I am excited about that. We need guys on the field. We need our guys out there making plays, and our guys want to be out there making plays. Yes, I am more excited now probably than any point in time all year in that way.”
Even with the return of several players, the Ravens still need to play much better on offense. Baltimore enters this week with the league’s 32nd-ranked passing attack.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has thrown for 1,551 yards with eight touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a 72.7 passer rating, which is 31st among all quarterbacks.
Flacco said the team needs to be much more aggressive over the final stretch of the season. The key is starting games stronger, taking an early lead and dictating the tempo.
“We can’t look ahead that far either, because when you start doing that and you start trying to look at the big picture of everything every single day, that just wears on you mentally,” Flacco said. “It is just too much for us to handle. We have to take it one week at a time. It is cliché as it can be, but we have to do that. We have to look at what is important now, and for us, that is getting a little bit of a break here and focusing on the Green Bay Packers.”
With the way the AFC is shaping up, nine wins might be enough to make the playoffs. That means the Ravens need to at least 5-2 the rest of the way to reach that goal.
The first step is beating Green Bay on Sunday. Then, the Ravens can take advantage of playing four of the final six games at home.
Ostensibly, the Ravens control their playoff destiny. Now, they need to take advantage.