By Edward Lee
The Baltimore Sun
7:21 PM EST, December 26, 2012
Despite their many differences, the Ravens and Bengals can say they share one thing: their approach to Sunday's game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati.
Reiterating their previous stances, the head coaches for both teams said their approach to the regular-season finale won't change despite neither team having much at stake.
"You have to" maintain the same preparations, John Harbaugh said after the Ravens practiced late Wednesday. "And that's the 46 guys who are active. They have to be a part of that. If you don't, this game's just not made for that, and that's what we've been doing."
Marvin Lewis echoed that sentiment, saying, "We've got a football game — a division game — against the Ravens. We're going to play to keep doing things well the way we're doing them. We look forward to the game this Sunday."
The Ravens (10-5) clinched the AFC North title and at least the No. 4 seed in the AFC playoffs after routing the New York Giants, 33-14, last Sunday. The Ravens could switch places with the No. 3 seed New England Patriots (11-4) if the Miami Dolphins (7-8) pull off an upset in Foxborough, Mass., and the Ravens win Sunday.
However unlikely that scenario may appear to be, several Ravens said they plan to play Sunday as fully as they've done the previous 15 games.
"Once you start something, you've got to finish it," running back Ray Rice said. "Our goal is to come in not only to win the division, but also to control it, and we did our thing against Cleveland, split with Pittsburgh, and right now, we're 1-0 versus Cincinnati. But you also want to finish, saying, 'If you sweep them, you're 2-0.'"
Cincinnati cemented a berth in the postseason by edging the Pittsburgh Steelers, 13-10, last Sunday. But the Bengals (9-6) can't catch the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) for the No. 5 seed and are locked in at No. 6.
Yet Cincinnati has won six of its last seven games, and maintaining that momentum is a driving force.
"I just want to go out there and play and keep sharp and keep fresh," defensive tackle Geno Atkins said on a conference call with Baltimore reporters Wednesday. "I think it's a team consensus that we all want to go out there and play."
Taking the foot off the pedal Sunday might make sense considering the injuries that have plagued the Ravens.
Strong safety Bernard Pollard has sat out the last two games because of bruised ribs, outside linebacker Albert McClellan did not play against the Giants due to a hamstring injury, and wide receiver Anquan Boldin left Sunday after bruising his shoulder in the third quarter and did not return.
Right guard Marshal Yanda (sprained right ankle) and inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (sprained right ankle/left foot) returned against the Giants, but perhaps another week off could accelerate the healing process for their injuries in time for the first round of the playoffs.
Ellerbe said he wouldn't lean one way or the other.
"Whatever the coaches say, we're going to do it, but we're still going to go out there and try to win," he said. "We're going to go out there and play hard."
Harbaugh said injuries won't play a role in his decision process over which players will enter the fray against the Bengals. Instead, adding another to the win column will take precedence.
"There's no formula here," he said. "What we try to do is do what's best for us to be best team we can be in the playoffs. Part of that is playing as well as we can play this week. We're [playing] to win the football game. But we've got other considerations to take into account as well, and some of that has to do with different guys' health and there are some domino effects with that. But the No. 1 thing to keep in mind is you have to go play all-out to win the football game."
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