Commentary: New feel for Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens aren't used to this. They're entering Sunday's Wild Card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts with four losses in five games.

In the last six weeks, the Ravens played just one complete game - the Dec. 23 win over the New York Giants. Beginning Nov. 25, when thanks to Ray Rice's spectacular run they escaped San Diego with an improbable win, the Ravens are just 2-4.

There was the three-game losing streak, the sacking of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and lots of injuries.

It culminated with Sunday's desultory loss in Cincinnati, a game that coach John Harbaugh didn't seem to care much about. He was much more interested in protecting the health of his players than in trying to enter the postseason with some momentum.

"I don't like that it's on our record," Harbaugh tersely replied when asked if he was worried about four losses in five games.

After the Rice run, Baltimore was 9-2 and had a decent chance of securing a first-round bye. They had such a big lead in their division that even their lackluster finish couldn't lose them the AFC North.

They ended with a 10-6 record, the same as the Bengals, but had a superior division record. There wasn't any worry about getting into the playoffs. Only the six playoff qualifiers had winning records in the AFC, It was quite a contrast in the NFC where the 10-6 Chicago Bears and 9-7 New York Giants have to watch the postseason.

The Ravens are the only NFL team to qualify for the postseason for five straight seasons, but in the previous four they've entered it playing well, not like this.

Harbaugh said that it was more important to rest players than try to move up in the playoff seeding. Even though that was unlikely to happen, it was strange to see Baltimore playing what amounted to a meaningless regular season game.

Rice, who was one of those quickly removed, agreed with Harbaugh's rationale.

"There's no game meaningless for me, especially for us," he said. "We battled adversity, we battled injury and we battled everything else you can imagine in a football team. We're a battle-tested football team. A game today where we didn't play half of our starters, and we're getting guys back healthy, I'm not really concerned about four losses in five weeks."

For Rice and Harbaugh getting Ray Lewis back after nearly three months away and resting Anquan Boldin, Haloti Ngata, Bernard Pollard, Terrell Suggs and Marshal Yanda for a week, was more important than playing well twice.

"This team is getting healthy. We're going to hit our stride in the playoffs,' Rice predicts.

The Ravens have faced the other four teams in the playoffs, beating New England, splitting with Cincinnati and losing to Houston and Denver. The Colts are an entirely made over team from the one new offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell coached last season.

"We're in a good spot. We feel real good. We're getting a lot of guys back this week," Corey Graham said.

When Graham learned the Ravens would be facing Luck, he seemed enthusiastic about the challenge. With just four games in the first playoff weekend, the story lines narrow around the NFL. There will be lots of talk about the emotional return of Colts coach Chuck Pagano to Baltimore and his courageous fight against leukemia.

Ed Reed preferred another opponent.

"I'd much rather see them in the AFC championship game than the first week," Reed said.

If the Ravens get past the Colts, they'd play at either Denver or New England in the divisional round. The only way they could host the AFC championship game is if the Bengals beat both the Texans and Broncos, both on the road.

If Baltimore somehow goes to the Super Bowl, they will certainly have earned it.

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