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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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Ruth's Chris 5 Sizzling Stats: What decided Ravens-Dolphins

Ruth's Chris 5 Sizzling Stats: What decided Ravens-Dolphins

Here are 5 Sizzling Stats, brought to you by Ruth's Chris, that helped to decide Ravens-Dolphins. 

36 -- Number of completions by Joe Flacco, a franchise record. He completed 36 of 47 passes.

381 -- The number of passing yards for Flacco on the day, his highest total of the season.

6 -- The number of points scored by Miami’s offense, the lowest total to which Baltimore has held an opponent to this season. The Ravens held Cleveland to seven points on two separate occasions, both Baltimore wins.

2 -- Touchdown receptions for Dennis Pitta, marking his first score since Week 14 of 2013. It was his first multi-touchdown game since Dec. 2012.

61 -- Rushing yards by Miami’s Jay Ajayi. His rushing average was 5.1 yards per carry, but he only carried the ball 12 times because of Baltimore’s early (and large) lead.

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Flacco-Mornhinweg meeting helps Ravens unleash offense

Flacco-Mornhinweg meeting helps Ravens unleash offense

BALTIMORE – A few days after the Ravens’ quarterback and offensive coordinator had a meeting of the minds, the team responded with its best offensive performance of the season.

Joe Flacco felt the Ravens got too conservative against the Bengals in Week 12, and told Marty Mornhinweg. The Ravens’ offensive coordinator said he hated being called conservative, and responded with an aggressive game plan that had the Dolphins on their heels in a 38-6 blowout win by the Ravens.

When it was over, Flacco had completed a franchise-record 36 passes, including four touchdown passes.  Flacco (36 for 47, 381 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) was happy. All the Ravens were happy. And perhaps Flacco and Morninweg had finally unlocked the key to finding how their offense operates best.

“One thing Marty has never been accused of is being conservative – that’s not a label he takes too kindly to, as Joe can probably attest,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh. “They had a little back-and-forth in one of the quarterback meetings – that was fun to watch. I heard about it; I didn’t actually witness it. But that’s what I think. Iron sharpens iron. We challenge each other, and everybody is able to do it in a way that makes each other better.”

This has been a difficult season for the Ravens’ offense.  Even with the change from Marc Trestman to Mornhinweg as offensive coordinator following Week 5, the Ravens struggled to find offensive consistency.

But against the Dolphins, the Ravens were explosive. Asked about the meeting with Mornhinweg, Flacco downplayed it, but he loved the results.

“It was a good conversation,” Flacco said. “It was all fun. It was a pretty fun conversation. It came down to the fact that I don’t think we were able to finish Cincinnati off last week like I really would have wanted to.”

The Ravens definitely finished off the Dolphins. Maybe Flacco should call Mornhinweg conservative every week if the Ravens respond like this.