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In a veterans-only meeting with coach John Harbaugh on Wednesday, Ray Lewis' message was: Cherish every game in December.

After the Ravens' 48-3 rout of the Detroit Lions, the middle linebacker delivered some more advice: Run the football.

The Ravens reverted to their power ground game, running for 308 yards, the second-most in team history, and scoring a team-record five rushing touchdowns.

The one-game switch to last year's run-first philosophy came much to the delight of nearly everyone in the locker room. From the offensive line to the running backs to even the defense, the players believe the best way to reach the playoffs is by running the ball.

"When you get into December, you run the football and you're going to have success. It's a fact," Lewis said. "When you have those three types of backs in our backfield, use them."

The Ravens ran the ball more than they threw it in every game last December and they went 4-0.

But this season, the Ravens decided to take advantage of quarterback Joe Flacco's arm and became a pass-heavy attack. Still, they were successful when they handed the ball off to Ray Rice, Willis McGahee and Le'Ron McClain. The Ravens are 7-1 this season when they run at least 28 times.

It's unknown whether the Ravens are going back to last year's scheme or if Sunday's game plan was just the one best suited for the rainy conditions.

"Yeah, you do need to run the ball when the weather gets a little bit worse," Harbaugh said. "We want to be an all-weather offense. That's something Cam [Cameron, offensive coordinator] talks about a lot."

Sticking to the running game seems like the best way to attack the Chicago Bears, who play the Ravens on Sunday.

The Bears have the ninth-worst run defense in the NFL. Without linebacker Brian Urlacher, who suffered a season-ending wrist injury in the opener, Chicago has let a running back gain at least 85 yards in its past five games.

On the first play Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, the Bears stacked nine defenders in the box only to allow running back Ryan Grant to run 62 yards for a touchdown in a 21-14 loss.

This could be another opportunity for the Ravens' "three-headed monster" to wreak havoc. "We don't ever want to lose our ability to run the ball," Harbaugh said. "We've done it better in some games than other games. And [Sunday] we did it as well as we've done it ever in the last two years here."

Rice led the way for the Ravens against the Lions, gaining a career-best 166 yards in just over one half of work. He left five plays into the second half with a chest injury, but Harbaugh said it was a precautionary move. Rice could have played if the game had been closer, according to Harbaugh.

"We just felt like at that time, it was a good time to get him out," Harbaugh said. "We have good backs, so it worked out."

Everything seems to be working out for the Ravens lately.

Of all the AFC wild-card contenders, the Ravens have the easiest remaining schedule for the final three weeks of the regular season. The combined record of their opponents (Chicago, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Oakland Raiders) is 15-24 (.385).

Indianapolis (13-0), which has clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, will play its starters in Thursday's game at Jacksonville even though the Colts have nothing to gain, coach Jim Caldwell said at his Monday news conference.

This works in favor of the Ravens, who need the Jaguars to lose. Although the Ravens and Jacksonville are both 7-6, the Jaguars have a slight edge because their AFC record (6-3) is slightly better than the Ravens' 6-4 conference mark.

"Sure, we're interested in all the games in the AFC, especially those teams around where we're at. But we're most interested in how we play," Harbaugh said.

"That's what we have to concern ourselves with. If we don't take care of business against the Chicago Bears, it's not going to matter what happens in the other games. That's our job."

Lewis recently spoke to Harbaugh about how December "is the greatest time that you'll ever have in football."

"Ray's point was you're going to remember these Decembers for the rest of your life," Harbaugh said.

"Here's a guy that's played 14 years. I don't think he remembers every play, but I think he remembers every December that they were in the hunt. That's what he is saying, 'These are valuable. Don't take this for granted, and make the most of it.' "

The contenders

Strength of the remaining schedules for the AFC wild-card contenders:

Team ..................Opp. rec. ..................... Pct.

Ravens (7-6) ... 15-24 ............................ .385

Broncos (8-5) .. 16-23 ............................. ,410

Dolphins (7-6). 18-21 .............................. .461

Jaguars (7-6) ........ 23-16 .............................. .590

Jets (7-6) .... 28-11 ............................. .718


Sunday, 1 p.m.

TV: Ch. 45

Radio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM

Line: Ravens by 10

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