The Ravens finished the regular season by winning two games despite inconsistent gains from their passing attack. That problem could be remedied by the return of Anquan Boldin.
The team's top wide receiver over the past two seasons is set to return this week from knee surgery in anticipation of the club's opening AFC Divisional game round Jan. 15.
"I feel good," Boldin said after the Ravens' 24-16 win against the Bengals Sunday. "I worked with the trainers, rehabbed it, pushed it, and now I feel good."
Boldin, who finished the regular season as the team's leader in receiving yards (887), underwent surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee. Boldin said he had played with the injury for much of the season before the pain became too difficult to ignore after a Dec. 20 practice.
"It was something I'd been playing with all season," he said. "It was partially torn. It flapped up on me during practice, and I couldn't run. That's when we decided to do it."
Boldin rehabilitated his knee and was ruled out for the game against Cincinnati as late as Thursday. But in a surprise move, Boldin appeared at Friday's practice and was limited, which encouraged the team to upgrade his status to doubtful.
Boldin didn't play, but he took his participation as a promising sign.
"I'm not concerned about rust," he said. "I was pushing hard and I practiced on Friday and did some of the things I expect to do"
Boldin's return should bolster a pass offense that accounted for 11 of 30 first downs, 262 of 631 total yards and averaged just 6.1 yards per pass attempt in the past two games. The wide receivers have caught just seven passes for 71 yards in Boldin's absence, and rookie Torrey Smith has made all seven receptions.
"It'll feel great," quarterback Joe Flacco said of welcoming back Boldin. "He's a big part of our game, and you like when you have a guy out there and you like when everybody is healthy, and you like when he's really, truly a part of it. Obviously, we're going to benefit when he's out there."
Added coach John Harbaugh: "He'll provide a spark. We'll be looking to have him be a big part of our offense."
Harbaugh: Cundiff will 'be our kicker'
Harbaugh said Monday at his weekly news conference that with kicker Billy Cundiff returning to the lineup in Sunday's win, Shayne Graham's stint with the Ravens may be nearing its end.
"As long as Billy's healthy, he'll be our kicker," Harbaugh said. "I think we were really fortunate that Shayne was available, and I think if anything happens in the future and if he's still available, I wouldn't be surprised that if someone had an issue, they would pick Shayne up right away."
With Cundiff sidelined with a calf injury in the Week 16 win over the Cleveland Browns, Graham made both field goal attempts. But he was inactive Sunday with Cundiff healthy enough to kick.
Harbaugh said the Ravens will hang on to both Cundiff and Graham "as long as we can," but if they need to add a player to their 53-man roster for the playoff run, Graham will be the odd man out. "Obviously [cutting Graham is] the direction that we would go," Harbaugh said.
Graham has kicked for four teams the past two seasons, converting 18 of 19 field-goal attempts.
"Why he's not holding onto a job right now, I'm not sure," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh stands by safety Reed
Harbaugh was asked to comment on Ed Reed's recent tackling issues, which the Pro Bowl free safety acknowledged Sunday after he was unsuccessful in his attempt to bring down Cincinnati running back Bernard Scott with an arm tackle during Scott's third-quarter touchdown run.
Harbaugh wouldn't say if Reed was playing injured and told reporters to ask Reed personally.
"I've got a lot of confidence in Ed Reed and I'm sure everybody else does," Harbaugh said. "I guarantee that the people who are playing against him, they know where he's at back there. Our coverage in our secondary [Sunday] was excellent. That starts with Ed Reed."
Harbaugh praised Reed's coverage downfield — he mentioned play-action passes in particular — and said he would leave Reed to answer any questions about tackling technique later this week.
"He's been around. He knows how to play. And he'll take care of that," Harbaugh said.
Rice brought attention to Williams' milestone
Running back Ricky Williams reached the 10,000 career rushing-yard milestone in Sunday's win, but the accomplishment was temporarily lost as the Ravens celebrated their AFC North title.
Starter Ray Rice brought it to Harbaugh's attention in the frenzied locker room and the coach then called Williams into the middle of the circle. The team started chanting, "Ricky! Ricky! Ricky! Ricky!"
"It was really a neat moment, a team moment," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh said players asked the quiet veteran to give a speech, "but he did not provide one."