Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't need to spend any time during the bye week studying the team's remaining schedule. To him, everything beyond Sunday's road game against the Cleveland Browns is irrelevant right now.
It doesn't matter that after Sunday's visit to Cleveland, the Ravens will play five of the next seven weeks at M&T Bank Stadium. It doesn't matter that they have two games ahead against the Cincinnati Bengals, the team that is ahead of them in the AFC North. A rematch against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thanksgiving night should be good theater, but that's not on Harbaugh's mind either this week.
"We have to go to Cleveland and find a way to win," Harbaugh said Monday.
The Ravens returned to practice Monday after getting the mandatory four days off for the bye week. Harbaugh said that the bye week provided players with a good opportunity to get some rest and spend some time with their families, and all of them came back on time and "with a lot of enthusiasm."
The Ravens have historically played their best football after the bye. They are a league-best 10-1 following the bye week since 2002. Under Harbaugh, they are 5-0 in such situations and their average margin of victory in those games is just over 16 points.
They're hoping to continue that trend against the Browns, who are 3-5 and have lost three straight games, but took the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs to the wire before falling, 23-17, at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
"I'm looking forward to seeing how we respond in terms of how we play," said Harbaugh whose team has beaten the Browns 11 straight times.
Certainly, Harbaugh and his players had plenty of time to consider the gravity of the challenge that lies ahead. With a 3-4 mark — the latest in a season that a defending Super Bowl champion has had a losing record since 2006 — the Ravens are 2 1/2 games behind the Bengals, who have now won four straight games. It's much too early for the Ravens to concede the division that they've won in back-to-back years, especially since the teams still have yet to play this season.
As far as the early wild-card picture, two teams — the San Diego Chargers (4-3) and the New York Jets (4-4) — are currently ahead of the Ravens for the sixth and final playoff spot.
The Bengals (6-2), New England Patriots (6-2) and the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) currently own multi-game leads for first place in their division. In the AFC West, which was billed as one of the NFL's weakest divisions in the preseason, the Denver Broncos (7-1) currently trail the Chiefs (8-0) by one game.
However, whichever AFC West team doesn't win the division and the Chargers certainly can't be discounted yet from the race, will be in comfortable position to secure a wild-card spot.
All the scenarios don't mean a whole lot to the Ravens now, but they do know that they have a significantly less margin of error at this point of the season than what they've had the past couple of years. The fact that they'll be home for much of this month and the start of December certainly provides some hope. However, it won't mean anything if the Ravens don't find their way out of this stretch of three losses in four games.
"We've got to get it done, and at the end, we'll see where we stand," Harbaugh said. "So, the race, it is what it is now. It's where it stands. But it's where it stands after 16 games that matters, and that's what we're looking forward to."
At this point, it appears that the Ravens are prepared to go with what they have. They signed reserve running back Bernard Scott on Monday, but he's more of an insurance policy behind starter Ray Rice and backup Bernard Pierce, who is dealing with a hamstring injury.
On the injured reserve with a designation to return list since the start of the season, tight end Dennis Pitta (dislocated hip) is eligible to start practicing this week. However, the Ravens never viewed that as a realistic return date. While there is growing optimism that Pitta will play again this season, he's still believed to be several weeks away from a return.
As far as any other potential acquisitions, the NFL trade deadline is at 4 p.m. Tuesday and the Ravens are always monitoring the market to see what's available.
A lack of salary cap space — the Ravens will have a little over $1.5 million left after the Scott signing — and the fact that the front office has already dealt away three picks in the Eugene Monroe and A.Q. Shipley deals seemingly works against another trade.
Harbaugh wouldn't comment about whether he anticipates any deals, saying "it's probably best just to stay away from that."
To Harbaugh, anything beyond the Ravens' opponent this weekend just didn't matter.
"We're just getting ready to go play a football game this Sunday in Cleveland," he said.
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