Preston: Ravens can't afford to lose to Jets

Mike Preston says the Ravens aren't necessarily in a must-win situation yet, but they can't lose to the Jets.

The Ravens are not in a must-win situation when they travel to play the New York Jets on Sunday, but this is a game they can't afford to lose.

A must-win game is when a team faces elimination from the postseason. It's too early for that, but all seasons have turning points and the Ravens are facing one with the Jets (1-5).

If they can beat the Jets, the Ravens (3-3) go into a bye week with a winning record and a chance to get several starters healthy and back in the lineup. They also have good chances of winning the next two games because both opponents, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cleveland Browns, have concerns at quarterback.

If they lose ... oh, this season could get ugly.

"Honestly, I haven't really thought about it," Ravens receiver Breshad Perriman said of the bye week. "I try not to think about it. I try to deal with it when it comes, but I'm sure some of the players will not mind a bye week. For now, we are just focusing on the Jets."

Everyone knows what is at stake over at The Castle. New York started the season 1-1, but has lost its last four games. Granted, those losses have come against some decent teams: the Kansas City Chiefs, Seattle Seahawks, Steelers and Arizona Cardinals. But a Jets defense that was expected to be one of the best in the NFL has allowed 59 points over the past two games.

The Jets have the No. 23 defense allowing 375.5 yards per game including 290 passing, and the No. 26 offense, which is averaging 331.5 yards per game including only 92.5 rushing. Here's the final rub: The Jets are making a quarterback change this week, replacing Ryan Fitzpatrick with Geno Smith.

Smith's record as an NFL starter: 11-18.

"I think he has the talent," Ravens safety Lardarius Webb said of Smith. "I know he has the talent. He has Brandon Marshall and a couple of guys that catch the ball. He has the guys around him.

"When you have Matt Forte in the backfield, you can take some of the pressure off of him and just run the ball a lot. I think they believe in Geno. We just have to worry about this one game. We have to get a win, and we have to get back on the right track."

This would be a good time to get on a roll. If the Ravens win, the week off would allow some injured players like receiver Steve Smith Sr., guard Marshal Yanda, returner Devin Hester Sr., cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and C.J. Mosley more time to heal.

Also, the Steelers will probably be without injured quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when the Ravens play them on Nov. 6. That means, the next two quarterbacks the Ravens face will probably be Landry Jones and Cleveland's Cody Kessler on Nov. 10.

That is certainly better than going against Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins and Eli Manning, all quarterbacks who have beaten the Ravens this season.

The Jets aren't pushovers. They've got Marshall and Forte on offense and linemen Muhammad Wilkerson, Leonard Williams and Sheldon Richardson on defense along with Darrelle Revis and Calvin Pryor in the secondary. New York can play good defense, but an erratic offense forces it to stay on the field too long.

It will probably be a close game, especially if quarterback Joe Flacco (shoulder) doesn't play. The Ravens make every game close regardless of the competition.

Coach John Harbaugh has spent this week trying to reduce the number of penalties. The Ravens are tied with the Oakland Raiders for the most penalties in the NFL with 52 and rank eighth in penalty yards (403).

"It is tough," Flacco said. "We are stopping ourselves so much. We are getting inside the 50-yard line, inside the 40-yard line, and then a lot of drives we are moving backward. We get down to the 10-yard line, and we go backward. Instead of having goal-to-go, you give yourselves goal-to-go from the 15-yard line. It just makes it a lot tougher to go out there and be successful and put points on the board. By that, I mean touchdowns; not field goals."

The Ravens should be healthier than a week ago. Flacco is still expected to start despite missing two straight days of practice. Both offensive tackles, Rick Wagner and Ronnie Stanley, should be in the lineup as well.

Nearly a week ago in the same stadium, the New York Giants and the officials tried to gift wrap a win for the Ravens, but they couldn't take it. The Giants won the game in the closing minutes on a 66-yard touchdown catch by receiver Odell Beckham.

The Ravens can't allow that to happen Sunday. These are the Jets, not the Giants. If they lose this one, it will be hard mentioning the word playoffs for the rest of the year. If the Ravens win, they could end up tied for first place in the AFC North with the Steelers, who play the New England Patriots on Sunday without Roethlisberger.

They can't afford to lose.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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