Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

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Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens are playoff bound, and that's about the best thing that can be said about them.

They've lost three in a row and have more than a half-dozen key players sidelined with injuries. Still, Baltimore (9-5) backed into the postseason late Sunday when Pittsburgh lost to Dallas.

The Steelers' loss assured the Ravens of at least wild-card berth, although their excitement over the accomplishment has been blunted by their longest losing streak since 2009 and the knowledge that they must improve to mount a serious postseason run.

The Ravens entered December with a three-game lead in the AFC North. The margin has shrunk to one game (over Cincinnati) with two to play.

``We've got work to do,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ``We're going to fight like crazy to become the team we're capable of becoming. We're not that team yet. It's a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us.''

That Ravens have the longest current run of consecutive playoff appearances in the NFL. They failed to reach the Super Bowl in any of their previous four forays into the postseason, and that unfortunate string will continue if Baltimore plays as it did the past three weeks.

After losing to Pittsburgh at home and at Washington, the Ravens were dominated from the start Sunday in a 34-17 home loss to Denver. After getting off to a fine 9-2 start, Baltimore is backpedaling in very untimely fashion.

``We've owned the last three losses. We also own the nine wins,'' Harbaugh said. ``We are what we are, we are what our record says we are and we're in contention. We're proud of that. But we know we have to get better and we have to get healthy.''

The injury list is expanding rather than shrinking. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right biceps) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) returned Sunday, but Ray Lewis remains sidelined with a torn right triceps and Harbaugh said Monday that inside linebacker Jameel McClain will miss the remainder of the season with a bruised spinal cord.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has missed three straight games with a sprained ankle, and Harbaugh acknowledged that the team ``might need to see who's available'' outside the organization.

The Ravens finished Sunday's game without wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce, both of whom had concussions. Their status, along with that of guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), safety Bernard Pollard (chest) and tight end Ed Dickson (knee), remains uncertain heading into Sunday's home game against the New York Giants (8-6).

Injuries are only part of the problem. The Ravens simply haven't played well this month, and although they remain in control of the division their uneven play has created a genuine cause for concern.

``Right now I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have,'' safety Ed Reed said. ``...It hits you in your heart when you lose three straight and you had an opportunity to close out your division the last three weeks. It's terrible.''

Asked to assess the frustration level of the team, cornerback Corey Graham replied, ``"It's at a max. I don't know about everybody else, but I know I'm frustrated. I know we've got to get better, I know we've got to make plays, and we've got to find a way to finish and get it done. We're not doing that as a team, and when you're not doing that you're not going to win games.''

Harbaugh attempted to shake things up last week by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handing the job to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, the offense was miserable against the Broncos. Baltimore failed to get a first down until deep into the second quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco had two turnovers by halftime and the Ravens scored their only touchdowns after Denver built a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead.

Ray Rice was limited to 38 yards on 12 carries and Pierce gained 20 yards on five tries before leaving. In all, Baltimore could muster only 56 yards on the ground.

``We'd like to run the ball better than we did. I was a little disappointed in that,'' Harbaugh conceded. ``We tried to get that going and there just wasn't much happening there. We need to sustain. We need to be a little more consistent, make a few more plays and get first downs.

``It's really been the same issue all year and we understand that. We're struggling with inconsistency and that's something we have to find between now and when the playoffs start. We're going to work hard to do that. I don't think we're that far away.''

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

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Will lack of conditioning lead to Richardson's downfall with Ravens?

Will running back Trent Richardson’s lack of conditioning be his downfall with the Ravens?

Richardson missed the first week of OTA’s with a hamstring issue, which was not the kind of early impression he wanted to make. Some injuries are unavoidable. But conditioning has been an issue for Richardson throughout his brief and so far undistinguished NFL career.

Entering the NFL as the No. 3 overall pick with the Browns in 2012, Richardson has disappointed in Cleveland and Indianapolis, and spent 2015 out of the league after the Raiders cut him before the season. When the Ravens signed Richardson in April, he knew it might be his last NFL chance. However, Ravens coach John Harbaugh wants to see even more commitment from Richardson when it comes to staying in shape.

RELATED: IN LATEST COMEBACK BID, RAVENS TE DENNIS PITTA'S CONFIDENCE NOT A PROBLEM

“Trent just needs to get healthy,” Harbaugh said after the first week of OTA’s. “I think the workload and the amount of work it takes to be a world class conditioned athlete is something that he’s working on right now. That’s what he needs to understand and that’s where he needs to get himself. When he gets himself there, he’s got talent. It will be fun. I’m very certain he’ll get there and when he does we’ll be able to evaluate him.”

The Ravens don’t have to wait on Richardson. Their running back competition is already intense, with Justin Forsett, Buck Allen, Kenneth Dixon, Lorenzo Taliaferro, and Terrance West all fighting for carries and roles.

Whether Richardson even threatens to make the team remains to be seen. His bigger priority is improving his conditioning, and getting back on the field.

MORE RAVENS: MIKE TOMLIN, ANTONIO BROWN GO TO PENGUINS PLAYOFF GAME

In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

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In latest comeback bid, Ravens TE Dennis Pitta's confidence not a problem

Not everyone close to Dennis Pitta was immediately sold on his second NFL comeback attempt. Will his twice-fractured hip hold up? How much is Pitta risking his long-term health?

Pitta has pondered those questions for months. But after the first week of OTA’s, the Ravens’ 30-year-old tight end remained confident he had made the right decision.

“I had to convince a few people, and I’m thankful for those who have been in my corner all along and had my best interests in mind,” Pitta said. “Like I’ve said before, I know my situation better than anyone else, and I’m confident in the decision I made to come back, and certainly there were people who wanted to make sure that I was confident in that decision. I have a great support team behind me, and we all feel good about this move.”

Pitta first fractured his hip during training camp in 2013, then again on a non-contact play against the Browns in 2014. However, Pitta says he doesn’t think about his right hip when he’s on the field. He’s also not lowering his expectations, despite not playing at all in 2015, and not playing a full season since 2012.

Pitta was one of quarterback Joe Flacco’s favorite targets, catching 61 passes for 669 yards during the 2012 regular season, then adding 14 catches for 163 yards and three touchdowns during the Ravens’ playoff run to a Super Bowl title.

Asked if he could return that level of play, Pitta suggested, “Why not?”

“No, my expectations haven’t changed from four years ago, to two years ago, to now,” Pitta said. “My level of expectation is extremely high going into this year. Like I said, I feel confident in how I can run, how I can move, how I can play and it’s just a matter of getting those reps back to where I’m confident in doing all of that. So, yes, expectations personally are very high.”

Pitta obviously wasn’t ready to end his career. If he is on the 53-man roster Week 1, it will be a terrific comeback story.

Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

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Mike Tomlin, Antonio Brown go to Penguins playoff game

If you didn't the the Pittsburgh Steelers enough already, this ought to help. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and receiver Antonio Brown decided to take in some hockey on Thursday and unfortunately, they were cheering for the local team.

On the one hand, what do you expect? They play for the Pittsburgh Steelers so it's no surprise to see them cheering for the hometown team. On the other hand, the Steelers are the team Ravens fans all love to hate so to see them supporting the chief rivals of the Washington Capitals, that stings.

Just one more reason to hate the Steelers this football season.

RELATED: SEAN PAYTON SAYS RAVENS LOSING WEEK OF OTAS ISN'T THAT BIG OF A DEAL