Ravens enter playoffs as 1 of the league's hottest teams
(AP Photo/Nick Wass)
By TODD KARPOVICH
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) John Harbaugh was still fired up one day after the Baltimore Ravens finally ended a three-year NFL playoff drought.
Over the course of this whirlwind season, Baltimore has gone from a team on the cusp of spiralling downward to one that poses a formidable challenge to any opponent.
Baltimore clinched the AFC North title with a 26-24 over the visiting Cleveland Browns in the regular-season finale. The fourth-seeded Ravens (10-6) host the Los Angeles Chargers - a team they defeated 22-10 on Dec. 22 - on Sunday.
"It was an amazing moment last night. It was incredible," Harbaugh said at his Monday press conference. "It was one of those really meaningful moments that sports is all about, that football is all about. The whole feel for the place was just electric. . It was really something to remember, but now you move on. Now, you move on."
The trip to the playoffs is the culmination of an impressive turnaround for the franchise.
The Ravens lost three straight games and were 4-5 entering their bye week. Veteran quarterback Joe Flacco was dealing with an injured right hip and Harbaugh was asked about his own job security amid the team's struggles.
Rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson was thrust into the starting lineup for the injured Flacco. Harbaugh and his staff completely overhauled the game plan on the fly to take advantage of Jackson's ability to run the ball - a strategy supported by Baltimore's top-ranked defense.
"We love this kind of football. It's ground and pound, smash-mouth football," offensive lineman Marshal Yanda said "We get stronger as the game gets longer, and we relish that."
The offense thrived under Jackson and the Ravens won six of their final seven games. The former Heisman Trophy winner finished the season with 695 yards rushing, the most for any quarterback. He is also the first rookie quarterback to win the AFC North since Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.
"I feel like our team just woke up, got hungry," Jackson said. "We knew what we were fighting for. The guys that haven't been there in awhile, they're AFC North Champs. Our defense, our offense, everyone just joined together, and we just kept working day in and day out, practices. We're just trying to grind. It's showing out on the field."
Overall, the Ravens rushed for 2,441 yards - the second most in franchise single-season history. Baltimore also owns the league's No. 1 defense and enters the postseason as one of the league's most dangerous teams.
"We're extremely confident. I think this team is built for playoff football, and I think we're mentally tougher than anyone out there, with what we've been through," safety Eric Weddle said. "Not just this season, but past seasons.
"I feel like we can go into any situation and battle our tails off and have a chance to win. This group is a special group, we play for each other. We play for our coaches and our coaches play for us. We win as a team and lose as a team, and when you have that bond, anything is possible."
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Updated December 31, 2018