Ravens take business-like approach to latest playoff foray

That they don't have the best postseason reputation is not lost on the Ravens.

The franchise is 9-6 in the playoffs, and four of those victories occurred during the team's magical run to win Super Bowl XXXV to cap the 2000 season. The Ravens are the only club in the NFL to have qualified for the postseason in each of the past four years, but don't have a Super Bowl or AFC championship title and just one AFC North crown to show for their labor.

"You don't want to be the team that just has an 18-game season every year," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said recently. "You don't want to be the team that is just satisfied with making the playoffs and then goes home early. We appreciate the fact of what we were able to accomplish. We understand that you don't get this opportunity many times. You look at a guy like [former Miami Dolphins quarterback] Dan Marino, Hall of Famer. He went to the [Super Bowl] one time. Every year, you can't take for granted the fact that you are in the playoffs. You have to take advantage of that because you don't know if you are ever going to make it again."

To that end, the team seems to be taking steps to ward off distractions and focus on the task at hand, which begins with Sunday's AFC divisional contest against the Houston Texans at M&T Bank Stadium.

The four corn hole boards in the Ravens locker room have become the equivalent of a child's toy after Christmas — unused after frequent play and more of an inconvenient nuisance lately.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, perhaps the most brazen of jokesters in a locker room full of colorful personalities, gently chided nose tackle Terrence Cody and rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith last week for failing to turn down some music while reporters were crowded around kicker Billy Cundiff, whose locker neighbors Cody's.

And during the flight back from Cincinnati after the team's 24-16 victory over the Bengals in the Jan. 1 regular-season finale, players were asking about the upcoming practice schedule, not how many days off they would get after securing a first-round bye.

The Ravens practiced Wednesday and Thursday last week before getting a long weekend away from their training facility in Owings Mills, but it was quite a departure from 2006 when former coach Brian Billick gave the players five days off before they returned to practice.

"I like that we all stayed around," Suggs said. "We're not taking the noose off. They say never take the noose off a mule because it's not going back on there. I like that we still all stayed in football and kind of stayed grounded in football. We get a chance to refocus and actually see what it is we're playing for, and that's awesome. But five years ago, I was a young man. What was I — 25, 24 [years old]? I definitely shot out to the West Coast. Took a five-hour flight, probably went to Vegas. I don't remember. Whereas now, I'm more mature, I'm kind of a vet, sort of. We know what's at stake, we know what we're playing for, and we're just taking it all in."

Coach John Harbaugh said the practice schedule took shape as players and coaches discussed their objectives.

"We talked about how this is not a midseason bye," he said. "There are goals in a midseason bye and goals in a postseason bye and things that need to be accomplished. Our guys understood that. We've got great leadership, and our leaders were out on front on that."

The sense of seriousness that has pervaded the Ravens can also be traced to the shrinking window of opportunity for some of the team's veterans. Inside linebackers Ray Lewis and Brendon Ayanbadejo, free safety Ed Reed, center Matt Birk, left tackle Bryant McKinnie, wide receiver Anquan Boldin and kicker Billy Cundiff are 30 years and older.

But defensive end Cory Redding, who is 31, said the hunger to win a Super Bowl is not limited to the aging players.

"Regardless if you have 16 years in the league or you're in your first year in the league, it's a sense of urgency because you never know when you're going to have the opportunity to be in this position again," he said. "That's the biggest thing that we emphasize to everybody in the locker room, whether they are 16 years in the league or rookies. Seize every moment. Control the opportunity you are in. Never take this for granted because we have some guys that have been in the league six years, been to the playoffs six straight times. We have guys like myself who have been in the league nine years and only tasted the playoffs twice. So you never know when you are going to get this opportunity again."

Still, the players said they are enjoying their position in the postseason. A win against Houston, and the Ravens will advance to their second AFC championship game in Harbaugh's four-year tenure as the franchise's head coach. And if the Denver Broncos pull off another upset by upending the New England Patriots Saturday night, that title contest could take place in Baltimore.

Suggs said the team is still having fun.

"Of course, we're still loose," he said. "Who better than me to keep the team loose? We're still loose, but like I said, we all know the task at hand, we all know the consequences of playing bad, and we all know what we've got to do. We all know the objective."

Quarterback Joe Flacco said the team will gain even further satisfaction by making a run deep into the playoffs.

"I think we're a pretty loose group, but at the same time, we don't really mess around," he said. "We're not loose and come out here and mess around and not get our work done. We're loose in our lives, but when we come out here and practice and we take the field, we're a pretty serious group. Yeah, we like to have fun, but you have fun by going out there and playing well and win football games."


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