Cleveland — As the Ravens drew closer to their 11th straight victory Sunday and clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, the team’s priorities shifted to leaving FirstEnergy Stadium — and the regular season — healthy as much as preparing for its Week 17 opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On the first play of the fourth quarter of the Ravens’ 31-15 win over the Cleveland Browns, running back Mark Ingram II suffered a calf injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the afternoon. On the same drive, tight end Mark Andrews hobbled to the sideline after being tackled.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson, who shattered the record he set last season for most rushes by a quarterback in a single season, took a few more unnecessary hits on the offense’s final drive as it milked the remaining minutes off the clock.
[ Ravens RB Mark Ingram II, TE Mark Andrews suffer injuries against Browns ]
After the game, coach John Harbaugh said Ingram avoided a serious injury and was hampered by cramping. According to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Ingram suffered a calf strain, but an MRI will reveal more.
Ahead of next Sunday’s game against the Steelers, which has no bearing on the Ravens’ playoff position, Ingram joins a long line of veterans who could sit in the team’s final regular-season matchup.
“It was very tough,” Jackson said of Ingram’s injury. “We don’t ever want to see that, but we know he’ll be good so we’re happy with that. He has time to recover. Hopefully he’ll be better than 100 [percent] and better than ever.”
As for Jackson, who likely laid his final case for winning the NFL Most Valuable Player award (341 total yards, three touchdowns), Harbaugh said that he hasn’t decided on a decision to rest his star quarterback. He added that he’ll spend the coming days meeting with the team’s leadership council and coaches to receive their input.
Jackson, perhaps the team’s fiercest competitor, looked perplexed after the game when asked if he wanted to play in a somewhat meaningless contest in seven days.
“Yeah, no doubt. But it’s coach’s decision,” Jackson responded.
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Considering Jackson’s historic workload this season — he is the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a single season — the likely scenario is that backup Robert Griffin III makes his first start in almost two years.
Who else rests is a bit murkier question, given that the team has to dress 46 players for game day and deactivate seven players.
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Safety Earl Thomas III, a 10-year veteran, declined to comment on whether he wouldn’t play next Sunday. According to ESPN’s Josina Anderson, Thomas plans to practice this week and sit Sunday.
Twelve-year veteran Brandon Carr, whose 191 straight starts are the most by an active NFL defender, chuckled at the mention of being inactive and breaking his record, but said that he would be a team player with whatever is decided.
While the Ravens will enjoy the luxury of resting players next Sunday, the Steelers will be clawing to get into the playoffs. Pittsburgh’s 16-10 loss to the New York Jets knocked it from the No. 6 seed in the AFC, and the Steelers will need a victory and a loss by the Tennessee Titans to make the postseason.
Sunday’s home finale will primarily be about health and getting out unscathed before attempting a postseason run, but Harbaugh’s main priority remains on beating a divisional rival.
“The thing I want to emphasize is that no matter what we do, the emphasis is going to be on winning the football game,” Harbaugh said. “We want to win the football game. We want that 14th win. There’s no doubt about that. We’ll be forthright in how we plan to do it.”