If the Ravens are going to win the AFC North and clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs, they'll have to do it without veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Boldin, who leads the team in receiving yards and is second to running back Ray Rice in receptions, had surgery Thursday to repair a "slight" meniscus tear in his knee and he'll miss at least the final two games of the regular season.
"It flapped up on him, I think it was Tuesday night after the walk-through," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. "He's going to have to get it repaired. It's a two-week thing. It's two weeks and he'll be back for the playoffs, whatever round we happen to play in. It will be a little bit tighter if we have to play in the first round."
Boldin's knee locked up on him as he walked to his car following practice Tuesday and further testing revealed the extent of the injury. His surgery today will be performed by renowned orthopedist Dr. James Andrews.
The best-case scenario is that Boldin will sit out Saturday's game against the Cleveland Browns and next Sunday's road contest against the Cincinnati Bengals and then be ready to go when the Ravens open up the playoffs. However, the Ravens' hope is that they'll be able to secure a first-round bye, giving Boldin one more week to get back.
The Ravens would earn the AFC North title, a first-round bye and a second-round home playoff game if they win their final two regular-season games.
"We need to get Anquan healthy, obviously, but we're going to have a lot of confidence in these young guys," said Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. "We have two tight ends that are really good. We're going to go out there and we're still going to attack and do everything that we know how to do. Obviously, we're going to miss Anquan, but hopefully, it's an opportunity for him to get better and hopefully, he comes back strong."
Boldin, who was acquired by the Ravens from the Arizona Cardinals in March 2010, has 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns this season. He has been relatively quiet of late, totaling 16 catches over the past six games and averaging just 43.3 yards per game during that span.
His absence should thrust veteran wide receiver Lee Evans into the starting lineup and allow for more opportunities for one of the Ravens' younger receivers, like David Reed, Tandon Doss or LaQuan Williams.
Derrick Mason, the Ravens' all-time leading receiver, is available after his release from the Houston Texans, but at this point, the Ravens aren't planning on bringing in any wide receivers, according to a source. That could change depending on Saturday's result.
"That's something that you want to get your young guys out there on the field as much as you can but you don't want to do it before they're ready to have some success," Harbaugh said. "I think those guys are very much ready to have some success between LaQuan and Tandon, the tight ends probably play a role in that as well. It will be very interesting to see how they do but we anticipate them playing real well."
Evans, who was acquired from the Buffalo Bills in August, has just four caches for 74 yards in what's been an injury-plagued first season with the Ravens. Saturday will mark his third start of the year, but his first since Week Two of the season against the Tennessee Titans. After that game, Evans was inactive for seven straight weeks because of a left ankle injury.
"It's an opportunity. Whatever is called on me to do, I'll be ready to do," said Evans. "I've been working to get back to this point, and I'm getting an opportunity. It's what it is, and I'm looking forward to it. It will just be about execution. We've got to do what we've practiced, and I'm looking forward to playing on Saturday."
Evans was targeted four times in last Sunday's 34-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers, but was unable to connect with Flacco for a catch.
Asked about his chemistry with Evans, Flacco said, "We're improving each week. We're proving that each week and doing everything we can do to get that better. We're trying to play quick and play fast, and I think as long we go out there and play fast and just react to things, it'll be good."
Evans acknowledged that he was looking forward to seeing everybody step up into bigger roles and that includes rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith, who will now likely draw the Browns' top cornerback, Joe Haden.
"It's a big loss for us. Anquan's our leader. We're definitely going to miss him out there on the field as a player," said Smith. "But for us, we've got to step up. It's too important for us to play well right now [and] not have any letdowns. The whole team is depending on us to play well and we've got to go out there and do it. We'll be fine. It's the NFL. It's the next man up. We're going to miss Q more than anybody, especially me. That's the guy who I look up to the most on the field. … I'm just going to have to step up. Coach Harbaugh told us, 'Next man up,' and we've got to go out there and perform."