Ravens defensive end Cory Redding had managed to stay calm and avoid an emotional attachment to the Denver Broncos-Pittsburgh Steelers Wild Card game Sunday. But when Broncos' wide receiver Demaryius Thomas caught Tim Tebow's pass on the first play of overtime and ran 80 yards for a touchdown, Redding admitted that he jumped off his couch.
A day later, the veteran said that the play and the Steelers' defeat should serve as a lesson to the Ravens as they embark on what they hope will be an extended playoff run.
"Cincinnati is out, Pittsburgh is out, Atlanta lost this weekend. It lets us know that we just have to go out there and let everything hang out," said Redding who didn't go to the playoffs for the first seven years of his career, but now has gone in back-to-back seasons with the Ravens. "You can't go out there and play cautious. Just get it, man. Go get it."
The Ravens returned to work today and began preparations for Sunday's second-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium against the Houston Texans, who dispatched of the Cincinnati Bengals, 31-10, on Saturday. The coaching staff, including offensive coordinator Cam Cameron who was at Reliant Stadium Saturday to scout the Texans, put in the game plan for Sunday's game shortly after their opponent became clear. On their way to the AFC North title and a first-round bye, the Ravens beat the Texans, 29-14, in Week Six.
Much has changed since for the Texans, who started quarterback Matt Schaub in that game but not star wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson is back after fighting through hamstring issues for much of the season, though Schaub — and his primary backup Matt Leinart — are out with season-ending injuries. Rookie fifth-round draft pick T.J. Yates is in, though the Ravens feel that the Texans are just as dangerous.
"It's not that much different. Teams evolve," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "But they're the same team in terms of what they like to do. They're good at what they do. That's why they've gotten as far as they have [and] they are as successful as they are. Of course, there will be wrinkles here and there, but it's going to be our players running our system against their players running their system. And whichever team plays the best on Sunday is going to be win the game. So there's an element of game-planning to it, but more than anything, it's [that] any two teams probably know each other fairly well at this point."
Against the Bengals, Yates completed 11-of-20 passes for 159 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown to Johnson. All-Pro running back Arian Foster carried the Texans' offense with 153 yards rushing and two touchdowns.
When the Ravens and Texans played on Oct 16, Foster was held to just 49 yards on 15 carries, his third lowest rushing total of the season. Limiting him will be the team's No.1 goal again this weekend.
"That's the objective: first and foremost is to stop the run," Redding said. "You can't let him get going. And number two, get guys, get eyes on No. 80 (Johnson), and guys on the back end really control not letting the ball over our heads. And No. 3, get after Yates, period. You have to stop the run, control the pass and get after the passer. That's the formula for winning every single week and that's been our formula from week one and up to week one, and it hasn't changed."
Redding spent the bye week resting and rehabbing a sore ankle, which kept him out of one game down the stretch and limited him in others. He said he feels "awesome," and he's hardly the only Raven to come back off the bye week feeling refreshed.
Harbaugh said that he expects all the injured Ravens, including wide receiver Anquan Boldin (knee) and linebackers Jameel McClain (knee) and Brendon Ayanbadejo (quad), to play on Sunday, meaning that the team will be at full strength for the first time in weeks.
"We did what we had to do to get that first-week bye," Redding said. "We came out of the backstretch 3-1, and that was our main focus. Guys are fighting on the field with big gashes down their legs and bruised ribs, messed up knees and toes and ankles and hands, and yet we still fought our way. Everybody got in that game, that Cincinnati game, and just played because we knew we were fighting for a week off. That was the biggest thing. We got that accomplished. We got control in the AFC North accomplished, and now it's time to rest, recover and get ready for the second season and winning Game One. That was the mindset for the guys. It was a big accomplishment."
Redding, middle linebacker Ray Lewis and center Matt Birk are among a number of Ravens' veterans who have counseled the team's younger players about how rare these opportunities are and how important it is to seize them.
Redding has never won a major championship, even falling short of a high school title when his North Shore (Texas) team that included Ravens' guard/center Andre Gurode lost in the state semifinals. While with the Minnesota Vikings, Birk went to the NFC championship game in two of his first three seasons, but he hasn't played for a conference title since.
"As you get a little bit older and you go through a lot more, you certainly don't take it for granted," said Birk. "Everybody's goal is the same when you start the season. I think one of the great things about football is the delayed gratification. You really work an entire year to reach that goal, to get to the Super Bowl. Obviously, making the playoffs is the first step."
For the Ravens, the next step is to take care of a talented Texans team in front of a sold-out crowd which will undoubtedly be ready for the city's first home playoff game since January 2007.
"The 'Bank' is going to be rocking. Everybody out there is going to be screaming loud. It's going to be crazy," Redding said. "[Yates] is going to have a hard time trying to make his checks. He is going to have hard times really trying to let the guys know when a blitz is coming because it is going to be noisy, and we want that. The defense really feeds on that energy, but for a young quarterback coming into a hostile environment and really having troubles with communicating, it's going to play into our hands. We are just going to sit back and let the crowd do their thing and do our job."
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