The Ravens have not deterred from their approach that they must win the final three games of the regular season to assure a playoff berth. It's possible that mentality has the team on edge, which was on full display during Thursday's practice inside the organization's indoor facility in Owings Mills.
Wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. used both hands to hurl his helmet down the field after quarterback Joe Flacco overthrew him on deep passes on back-to-back attempts. Smith, who is known for his competitive fire, kicked a nearby football and then sat on the sideline by himself as practice continued.
Coach John Harbaugh closed the session by dressing down the team in the middle of the field. Raising his voice loud enough to be heard by the media gathered behind one end zone, Harbaugh implored the players to focus on Sunday's opponent, the Philadelphia Eagles, and clean up mistakes from Monday night's 30-23 loss at the New England Patriots.
Asked about the outbursts, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs at first scolded reporters about making "a big deal about the smallest things" before agreeing that the Ravens are a little tense.
"You've got to understand, we're all a little messed up," he said. "It is December football, and we're all a little itchy. But yeah, we are moving forward. We're an emotional bunch because we really wanted that one [against the Patriots]. We were in the division lead [in the AFC North] and we controlled our own fate then, and now we've got to win out. We're just a little edgy, but I think it's good to be a little edgy in December."
Players and coaches understand that any talk of the postseason will likely quiet with a loss to Philadelphia at M&T Bank Stadium, but it is still difficult to get past the setback to New England. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who did his best last Thursday to downplay crafting a strategy against his former employer, admitted that the loss continues to gnaw at him.
"Nobody's happy about the performance we put out there on Monday night, and I'm not happy about my performance on Monday night," said Pees, who was the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator for the Patriots from 2004 to 2009. "I'll tell you this: I've never prepared harder for a team than I prepared for those guys. I never wanted to win more than maybe the Super Bowl than I wanted to win that game the other night, and I think our players were that way, too."
The Ravens' clearest path to the playoffs involves winning their final three contests to overtake the Pittsburgh Steelers for the division title. It won't be easy with the Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals lined up in the last two games, which may explain the unusual display of emotion on Thursday.