Ravens coach John Harbaugh discussed the team's bye week plans: "They'll be back Monday to begin preparations for the last six games of the season." (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
In six previous seasons under John Harbaugh, the Ravens have had their bye weekend as early as Week 2 and as late as Week 8.
So for many players, who were sent home Monday afternoon by Harbaugh with orders not to return until next Monday, this week's break is uncharted territory.
And the Ravens are happy to navigate it.
"It's a good time for us," Harbaugh said Monday. "Hey, what's the right time? You can't plan a bye. Do you like them early, do you like them late? I think for our team, right now, it's really a good time for us to have it. It's obviously later.
"Most teams have had their bye [and] a few teams have their bye next week. It's come at the right time for us, and we should come back fresh and strong and ready to go."
The Ravens haven't had a bye this late in the season since 2000 and 2001, when they got Week 13 and Week 14 off under Brian Billick in back-to-back years. In 2000, the Ravens won the Super Bowl. The following year, they were eliminated in the divisional round by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
As the Ravens left the locker room Sunday after a 21-7 home victory over the Tennessee Titans that upped their record to 6-4, the sense of the players was that the team is in good position for a playoff run and a week off will only help.
"I think we're still kind of a little angry that we're not 7-3 or 8-2, but we can't change that at this point," tight end Owen Daniels said. "It's a really tight race, and I think we're going to get fresh, and those teams have still got to play each other a few times.
"We're trying to take care of business one week at a time, so we're at where we're at. Everything's tight, but we've got a lot of confidence in our team and what we're doing going forward, for sure."
For Harbaugh and the coaching staff, the week will give them time to scout the Ravens' next six opponents, starting with the New Orleans Saints, and do some self evaluation.
The Ravens have been inconsistent over the first 10 games, dominating several downtrodden teams while struggling against the top opponents. The play of the offense and the team's patchwork secondary remain chief concerns.
"We have a ways to go in every area," Harbaugh said. "…You do a lot of work on your tendencies and things like that and just kind of see where we're at. We'll do a lot of studying that way."
For the players, the week is a good opportunity to get away, catch up on family time, rest, and refocus on the final six games. Veteran wide receiver Steve Smith went as far as to say that the bye week represented "perfect timing."
The Ravens have three games remaining at home and three on the road, starting with a Monday night game Nov. 24 against the New Orleans Saints. Only three of their six remaining opponents — the San Diego Chargers (5-4), Miami Dolphins (5-4) and Cleveland Browns (5-3) — have winning records, and the combined record of their future opponents (25-30) qualifies as the easiest remaining schedule in the AFC North.
Still, the Ravens have ground to make up. They sit eighth in the 16-team AFC with the top six making the playoffs. They are tied with the Steelers (6-4) for third place in the AFC North, the first division in which every team is at least two games above .500 at any point in the season since the 1935 NFL Western Division.
"I think it's the best division in football," Harbaugh said. "That's only going to serve to make us all better in the end. It's going to be a dogfight right to the end. We just need to do our part. We understand how good the other three teams are in our division and how well they're going to play down the stretch. That should only serve as further notice to us how well we'll need to play."
The Ravens entered the bye week last year with a 3-4 record and coming off a last-second loss to the Steelers. Harbaugh vowed to explore all avenues to improve, and rush linebacker Terrell Suggs declared a "state of emergency." There were no such declarations Monday.
"We would like to be a lot better, but we're just going to take it after 10 games, we've won six of them," Suggs said. "We've lost four games to four teams with winning records. There's a lot to be said about that, but like I said, we're very optimistic about the six ahead."
To get to this point, the Ravens have survived the Ray Rice fallout and numerous distractions on and off the field. They'd endured a slew of season-ending injuries, including the loss of starting tight end Dennis Pitta and their top cornerback, Jimmy Smith.
They also made it through a division-heavy start to their schedule, beating the Cleveland Browns once, splitting with the Steelers and losing both games to the Cincinnati Bengals.
A half game separates the entire AFC North, but by the time the Ravens play again, the Browns and Bengals (5-3-1) will have played twice each and the Steelers will have played once.
"I think we put ourselves in a good situation, but there's a long way to go and this division changes every week," Ravens right tackle Rick Wagner said. "You can be on the bottom one week and the next week you're in first. You just have to keep winning."
Several players said their main goal for the bye week is to get healthy and recuperate from the bumps and bruises players collect over the course of a season. But Suggs acknowledged that it will be tough for him not to at least glance at what some of the Ravens' competitors are doing, both this weekend and in the weeks ahead.
"You definitely got to take a peek, but you also have to handle your own business," Suggs said. "It doesn't matter if you don't win your games and take care of the things that you have to do. We're definitely going to be scoreboard peeking, but it doesn't matter if we don't win. We definitely have to look at ourselves, too."