By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun
8:23 PM EDT, September 12, 2012
The Ravens are the sudden darlings of the NFL after they pulverized the Cincinnati Bengals in a prime time setting on Monday night. But as they prepare for a Philadelphia Eagles team that barely edged the Cleveland Browns in their season opener, recent history suggests that the Ravens shouldn't get too comfortable with their sudden status near the top of many NFL power rankings.
In the last three seasons, the Ravens are 5-7 following victories in the season opener and wins against teams with winning records. Upending that trend begins with Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, and it's a priority among the players, who were reminded Wednesday of that history by coach John Harbaugh.
"John talked to us a little bit about that because in the last few years, we have come out on opening week and played really well and then had a little bit of a letdown the next week," quarterback Joe Flacco said after Wednesday's practice. "So we're doing the best we can to make sure we get our bodies rejuvenated on a short week. That way, we can go out there on Sunday and just get after it as best we can."
Inside linebacker Ray Lewis said the players know that every week — and every opponent — is unique.
"We're just in a different mind set," he said. "Practice was crisp, practice was fast, Everybody really got their legs back under them [Wednesday]. So that's definitely a positive. Last week was last week. It's over. We're 1-0 in the division, and now it's time to move on."
The Ravens have made a habit of rising to the occasion against formidable opponents. They went 6-0 against playoff teams last year, matching the Green Bay Packers as the only organizations to go undefeated against other postseason contenders during the regular season.
But the Ravens were 3-3 after contests involving significant opponents. They dropped games to the Tennessee Titans, Jacksonville Jaguars and Seattle Seahawks after beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh again, respectively.
"We understand that we don't want to do [have a letdown]," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "So we're going to try to have a great week of practice and make sure we go into Philly and have a good game."
The Ravens' troubles in 2011 can be traced to both sides of the ball. After posting 402 and 385 total yards in victories over the Texans and Steelers, respectively, the offense managed just 146 and 229 yards in ensuing losses to the Jaguars and Titans.
The defense's stout reputation against the run took a blow, too. In losses to the Seahawks and Jaguars, running backs Marshawn Lynch and Maurice Jones-Drew rushed for 109 and 105 yards, respectively.
While the past has value, Harbaugh said the team is not resting on Monday night's laurels.
"You've got to work in practice, practice well. I think going into it, it's always going to be that way," he said. "You just try to continue to get better every single day. You don't try to maintain it. … We've just got to prepare for this game. It stands on its own two feet. We try to take the best execution into it that we can."
That approach should help the Ravens, according to Heath Evans. The current NFL Network analyst and former New England Patriots fullback said the presence of the coaching staff and the upcoming game against Philadelphia should serve to hone the team's focus.
"The thing to know about John Harbaugh is he's not going to let the Baltimore Ravens overlook the Eagles because anybody with two cents about them in the football IQ department knows that Philly is just dangerous," Evans said. "At the end of last year, no one wanted to see that team."
The Ravens should expect a tough challenge from the Eagles. Although Michael Vick was intercepted four times, the quarterback did throw for 317 yards and engineered the game-winning, touchdown drive with 1:18 left in the fourth quarter.
Running back LeSean McCoy rushed for 110 yards, and Philadelphia's defense intercepted Browns rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden four times and surrendered just 99 total rushing yards.
Lewis said the Eagles' potential should be more than enough to hold the Ravens' attention.
"For us to go in there and say, 'Oh, the Eagles are not as good as they say,' we'd be fooling ourselves," he said. "We know that this is their home opener. So it's going to be loud, it's going to be rowdy, they're going to be ready to play. We can't look on last week and say, 'Oh, they're going to play us same as they played the Browns.' I don't think that at all. I think we're going to get everything they have."
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