3:20 PM EST, December 1, 2012
The question came at John Harbaugh from a thicket of cameras and microphones, one of those existential-type deals football coaches hate.
"Does it feel like a charmed season at all?" a TV guy wanted to know. "You've had so many close wins. Is it big-picture like that or does it not matter? Do you get a sense of something special with this season?"
Harbaugh looked like a man who'd just eaten a bad piece of fish.
"I don't believe in magic," the Ravens coach said quickly. "I never have. It's not in my theology system."
At this point, we were all hoping the next question was about the 4-3 defense or Joe Flacco's ability to throw the deep out, just so Harbaugh would take a deep breath and relax.
But, hey, it's that time of the year in the NFL, when it's hard to tell who's more wired, the contending teams or the ones about to kick their coaches to the curb and start over.
As for the Ravens, they're a healthy 9-2 going into Sunday's game at M&T Bank Stadium against the Pittsburgh Steelers in what feels like another big rivalry showdown, just not quite as apocalyptic as some of the others.
The Ravens could win the division and clinch a playoff spot with a win. And you have to like their chances at the Bank, where they've won 16 straight games (including the postseason) and are harder to beat than the Navy SEALS.
Just don't go asking Harbaugh and his players to get in touch with their feelings and characterize this great Ravens season in any kind of mystical terms.
Oh, they're fine if you want to talk about hard work and focus and dedication and all the other buzzwords teams use to explain their success.
But using terms like "charmed" or "special" to characterize a season? Uh-uh, that's not going to work. That's when your average pro football player looks at you as if you just lapsed into Farsi.
"I don't know," Joe Flacco said when asked essentially the same question that Harbaugh got. "I don't really believe in that stuff. All these games are tough. That's the way it is. We've won tough games in the past. I wish we would make them a little easier on ourselves, but that's the way it is in this league.
"You have good teams, and teams look at us as a good team, and they're going to come in there and they're going to give us their best," the Ravens quarterback continued. "So we have to be willing to take everybody's best shot each week, and get up and keep on going.
"In doing that, we're going to have to play some close games, and games are going to have to come down to the end. We have the guys that can get it done when we need to."
Yeah, they've pretty much proved that all season.
One thing Flacco and the Ravens would really like to do against the Steelers is get their offense going, which might be tough to do against the league's top-rated defense.
Over their past 91/2 quarters, the Ravens have scored only one touchdown, which is getting to be real old and a quiet source of concern for the coaches.
The alarm bells aren't clanging yet, not with a Super Bowl contender that's found a way to win all season, even if it isn't pretty.
But this is the time of the year, the stretch run to the playoffs, when you need your offense to step up and move the ball consistently. Especially an offense that was expected to carry the Ravens this season because of key injuries and question marks on defense.
"We have to find ways to score points," said Ray Rice, the tough little running back who saved the Ravens last Sunday with that heroic 29-yard run that propelled them into overtime against the San Diego Chargers. "The level of concern is obviously something that we work out in practice. … We're getting opportunities. We just have to find ways to execute them.
"That's the reason that I called ourselves a [ticked-off] 9-2, because if we score points, it helps our defense out. Earlier in the year, they were talking about how our defense was playing. Now they're playing lights-out. If we piggyback off of each other and just continue to do what we do, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with moving forward."
No matter how "charmed" or "special" the season feels to the rest of us.
Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays at 7:20a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."
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