Ravens coach John Harbaugh has spent the better part of three months mostly minimizing injury questions. As the team’s injured reserve list mounted and the number of players missing practices or games increased, Harbaugh’s focus remained staunchly on those who were on the field.
Harbaugh said repeatedly that he viewed injuries as an opportunity for others rather than an excuse for playing poorly or losing. That, however, doesn’t mean he never yearned for a day where he’d have more healthy options for both practices and games.
That day might have arrived. Harbaugh made little effort to downplay his excitement as he assessed the team’s health situation Monday after its bye week.
“I could probably stand up here and give you the politically correct coach-speak and say that nothing changes, but I’ll be honest with you, I’m excited about the fact that we have our offensive weapons back — the ones that are still with us,” Harbaugh said. “I feel like we are more full strength than we have been all year. We finally have a chance to be full strength … so I’m excited about that. We need guys on the field. We need our guys out there making plays, and our guys want to be out there making plays. So I’m more excited now probably than at any point in time all year that way.”
When the Ravens return to practice Tuesday and begin preparations for Sunday’s game against the Green Bay Packers (5-4) at Lambeau Field, it’s not out of the question that their entire 53-man roster will be on the field participating in some capacity.
That doesn’t include running back Danny Woodhead, who is technically still on IR after hurting his hamstring in Week 1, but Harbaugh said the veteran will practice Tuesday and has a chance to return for Sunday’s game.
“Throughout the week, we’ll have to see how he comes along with practice,” Harbaugh said. “It’s kind of hard to predict.”
Running back Terrance West (calf), wide receiver-returner Michael Campanaro (shoulder), tight end Nick Boyle (toe) and reserve safety and special teams player Chuck Clark (hamstring) have missed recent weeks with injuries, but should be available to return against Green Bay.
The bye week also figures to help the long list of Ravens who have been playing through injuries. That list includes quarterback Joe Flacco (back); wide receivers Jeremy Maclin (shoulder), Mike Wallace (back) and Breshad Perriman (shoulder); tight ends Benjamin Watson (knee/calf) and Maxx Williams (ankle); starting offensive linemen Ronnie Stanley (shoulder), Austin Howard (shoulder), Ryan Jensen (shoulder) and Matt Skura (knee); defensive linemen Brandon Williams (toe/foot) and Michael Pierce (illness); linebackers Terrell Suggs (knee), C.J. Mosley (shoulder), Patrick Onwuasor (elbow) and Tim Williams (hamstring); and defensive backs Jimmy Smith (Achilles), Eric Weddle (shoulder/ankle), Tony Jefferson (ankle), Lardarius Webb (knee/hamstring) and Anthony Levine Sr. (hamstring).
“I think we’re hoping that’s the case. That’s what we need right now,” Harbaugh said when asked how the bye could benefit some of his more banged-up players. “We did have a tough travel stretch there around that [London] game and everything. How much it affected us or not, it’s hard to say. But, just as important, is this time right here to have a chance to get healthy. One more set of teams has a bye. We’re almost as late as you can get, I guess. Hopefully, it will pay off for us.”
When the Ravens learned that they would be facing the Jacksonville Jaguars overseas in Week 3, they asked the NFL for a later bye, rather than the post-London week off that most teams have gotten. The league obliged and the Ravens got their bye on Week 10 rather than Week 4.
It seemed like a dubious decision when a banged-up Ravens team came home from a 44-7 shellacking to the Jaguars and had to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, their biggest rival. They were beaten in that game, 26-9, the two games starting a stretch during which the Ravens lost five of seven games to head into their week off with a 4-5 record.
However, the Ravens are now in position to benefit from the late bye for a stretch run. They’ve gotten Maclin, Wallace, Maxx Williams, Skura, Brandon Williams and defensive lineman Carl Davis back in recent weeks. After a wave of injuries during training camp and through the first couple of weeks, the Ravens haven’t put a player on IR since starting defensive end Brent Urban’s season officially ended Sept.27 because of a foot injury.
The bye week has traditionally served Harbaugh’s team well. The Ravens are 7-2 after bye weeks in the Harbaugh era, including 2-1 on the road. That includes a 4-0 record against teams that enter the game with a winning record. The Ravens’ 12-3 mark after the bye week since 2002 is tied for the best in the NFL.
After bye weeks this season, teams are 14-10 and 8-4 on the road.
While the unofficial first half was a significant disappointment for the Ravens, they are only a game behind the Buffalo Bills, who occupy the sixth and final AFC playoff spot with a 5-4 mark. On paper, the Bills and other AFC wild-card hopefuls have a much tougher schedule than the Ravens, who play four of their final seven games at home and at least three of the games against backup quarterbacks. That starts Sunday with the Ravens preparing to play the Brett Hundley-led Packers.
“We kind of understand that about the National Football League: It’s week-to-week. You have to find a way to win some games. There’s going to be weeks that you’re not going to win, but you’ve got to string together some wins at some point in time. That’s kind of the difference, I think, between making the playoffs or not making the playoffs, winning the division or not,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to string together a run of wins. Sometimes, they don’t have to be pretty as we all know here. If you watched games [Sunday], you saw the same thing. Just find a way to win. There’s different ways to do that from one week to the next, but that’s where we’re at right now.”