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Ravens begin new season, but clean slate requires more than just an eraser

The Ravens can talk all they want about the clean slate they earned with Sunday's 20-10 comeback victory over the Cleveland Browns, but they'll need more than an eraser to get past the late-season problems that made Week 17 so suspenseful.

They have to find a way to get the offense moving quicker. They've got to find a way to keep downfield receivers on the radar. They've got to stop making stupid mistakes at key times … like that offsides penalty in the third quarter that helped keep the Browns' touchdown drive alive.

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Sunday's game started with a first offensive series that featured a false start on first down, a dropped pass and a bobbled snap, which -- as Joe Flacco pointed out after the game -- was only the top of a too-long list of mistakes that had the M&T Bank Stadium crowd booing at several points during the second and third quarters.

Flacco all but said that he couldn't blame the fans for their frustration, since the Ravens were plenty frustrated themselves. Those boos turned to deafening cheers when Flacco and Torrey Smith hooked up on two huge pass plays midway through the fourth quarter to put the Ravens on top for the first time in the game.

The stress level was understandable. Everybody in the stadium could see that the Kansas City Chiefs were gift-wrapping a playoff berth for somebody and the Ravens looked for three quarters like they would leave it under the tree.

(Nice, by the way, of the Chiefs to help the Ravens extend their season after the Kansas City Royals knocked the Orioles out of the American League Championship Series in October.)

Now, the hard work begins anew. The Ravens are going on the road to face a high-quality oppoment. If they play the way they did for the first 45 minutes Sunday, they're going to be so far in the rear-view mirror by the fourth quarter that nothing they do down the stretch is going to matter.

Maybe this is all there is. Maybe just getting to the playoffs is an achievement in itself after nearly a year of the Ray Rice scandal and one of the league's longest injured reserve lists. Certainly beats the alternative, which is what the Ravens and their fans were facing until the offense woke up and scored those 17 fourth-quarter points.

Nobody at the Under Armour Performance Center wants to think that way. John Harbaugh and the coaching staff will be working 20-hour days to figure out a way to shore up the decimated secondary and strengthen a battered offensive line.

Fans can take some solace in the return of All-Pro defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, whose four-game Adderall suspension is now complete. He'll be back just in time to replace Timmy Jernigan, who became the latest Ravens player to go down with a significant injury.

There's one thing that the Ravens definitely have going for them. In this era of NFL parity, nothing is ever guaranteed. There have been too many strange outcomes this season for any team to take any other team for granted.

So, when someone asked Harbaugh whether he thought the Ravens would be a "dangerous" team in the playoffs, he didn't hesitate.

"I think they can be very dangerous,'' Harbaugh said. "I think you all know the history. It's a zero-zero tournament right now. We've been down the road plenty of times in the playoffs as a group. We're as dangerous as anybody else in the league, so I'm excited to be coaching the Ravens in the playoffs, I can tell you that."

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

twitter.com/SchmuckStop

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