Inside the Ravens with Aaron Wilson

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

RAVENS NOTEBOOK: Ravens' playoff path reminiscent of last season

OWINGS MILLS – One year removed from a march to the AFC championship game, the Baltimore Ravens’ postseason run is taking on a similar flavor.

As a wild-card entrant last season, the Ravens crushed the AFC East champion Miami Dolphins in the opening round.

Then, they edged the top-seeded, AFC South champion Tennessee Titans in a tense divisional playoff behind a clutch Matt Stover field goal to advance to the title game before falling to the eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now that the Ravens (10-7) have dispatched the AFC East champions again with a brutal 33-14 win over the New England Patriots, they’re about to square off with the top-seeded Indianapolis Colts (14-2) on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Although there’s a considerable amount of symmetry at work here, obviously that doesn’t necessarily mean the exact same scenario will unfold. As good as the Titans were, they aren’t nearly as formidable as a Colts team headlined by NFL Most Valuable Player quarterback Peyton Manning.

“Every year is different,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “Obviously the fact that most of our players have been in that situation before, I think our younger guys can draw on the experience of the guys that have been there before.

“It’s a different year, it’s a different team. We’re a different team, and this is a new week. We’ll just have to see how it plays out.”

Just like last year, though, the Ravens will have to contend with a well-rested AFC South team.

The Colts coasted into the playoffs, resting starters liberally during the final two games after getting off to a 14-0 start.

While the Colts could have to shake off some rust, the Ravens are hoping to use momentum to springboard themselves back to within one game of the Super Bowl.

“It’s not something that we’re going to think about,” Harbaugh said. “We’re in a situation where we’ve had to play. We’ve taken that set of circumstances and tried to turn it into making us the best team we can be to win the next game, be the best team we can be.

“A team like the Colts has a different set of circumstances, but they earned it. We’re on a different path, so you can’t really compare. Maybe someday, we’ll be in that situation. I hope we are, and then we can talk about that.”

NO CHALLENGE: Detailing his decision to not challenge a muffed punt that Patriots safety Kyle Arrington recovered and didn’t have control of the football as he sailed out of bounds, Harbaugh reiterated that he didn’t have sufficient information to call for an instant replay.

Harbaugh said that he didn’t see it on the field, and his assistant coaches up in the booth only had the benefit of a television replay that didn’t come until after the commercial break while the Patriots’ offense was lining up for the next play. And the play wasn’t replayed by the Patriots on their video board for obvious competitive reasons.

The Ravens lacked the information on whether a challenge was viable.

“We didn’t have enough,” Harbaugh said. “You’ve got to go by what you see up top and what you see on the field. Nobody on our sideline could see it. Our coaches didn’t see the recovery part of it live and they didn’t get that up until after the commercial break when the Patriots were going to the line of scrimmage and we’re trying to get a defense lined up.

“At that point, we really didn’t have an indication that there was even an issue on the sideline in real time. And we didn’t see it in time to communicate it to get the flag thrown. In all honesty, we want to do a better job with that if we can. We’re going to try to do a better job in the future making sure if you could have seen it on time that we don’t miss it.”

Harbaugh said a few potential remedies to that situation have been broached around the league.

“There are some conversations that the live feed that the network has for their production crew should go into the coaches’ box,” Harbaugh said. “That’s something that could be looked at. To me, that’s the only thing you could really do.”

INJURY UPDATE: Tight end Todd Heap is expected to play against the Colts despite suffering a back stinger against the Patriots.

Heap said it’s a painful injury, but one he thinks he should be able to endure.

So far, all tests have indicated there’s no structural damage.

“He’s got some lower back type spasms,” Harbaugh said. “That stuff can be tough, but usually you can work through that pretty well. So, he should be fine.”

QUICK HITS: Harbaugh downplayed the notion that the Ravens’ defense can take much out of intercepting Patriots quarterback Tom Brady three times and applying it to defending Manning. “Those two guys are different,” he said. “They’re similar in the fact that they’re both great quarterbacks, Hall of Famers. They’re different, and the offenses are completely different. And how they run their offenses is completely different.” … The Ravens will return to work today for a light practice after giving the players off Monday. With a Saturday game, everything has been condensed. The Ravens have already done a lot of advance work on scouting the Colts since they knew that would be their opponent if they got past the Patriots. “We’ll just move everything up one day,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve done a lot of work already going in.” … Harbaugh initially thought that free safety Ed Reed should have held onto the ball instead of lateraling to strong safety Dawan Landry after intercepting Brady. The gamble wound up being an effective one with Landry gaining another 25 yards after a safe pitch from Reed. “We encourage our guys to make good decisions, and good decisions are usually judged by the result,” Harbaugh said. “My first thought, I’m going to be honest with you, when he was running up the sideline, is not to do it. My first thought is secure the football, but he had a situation that we do practice where he had Dawan in great position. He had control of the ball. Nobody was near the ball, and he had free access to get it to Dawan. So, he made a good decision and it worked out.” … Harbaugh praised oft-criticized, penalty-prone reserve cornerback Frank Walker. Walker had one of his better games, avoiding penalties and playing aggressively and under control with two tackles and a pass deflection. “Frank is a really good football player,” Harbaugh said. “Frank has made the same kind of errors that every player makes in the heat of battle, and some of those things get a little blown out of proportion because some of those penalties he’s had have been touch fouls that sometimes don’t get called the other way. So, I’m going to defend Frank. I believe in Frank. I think he’s a good football player, and I was happy to see the way he played this last week. If you want to talk about fundamentally sound corner play, watch Frank Walker against the New England Patriots. It’s training tape.” … Cornerback Domonique Foxworth shut down Randy Moss in single coverage, holding him to five receptions for 48 yards. He also registered nine tackles, including one for a loss. It was easily his best tackling performance of the season. “I think he’s been a good tackler all year, not to say corners don’t miss some tackles and those guys are 180-pound type guys so they’re in some mismatches sometimes,” Harbaugh said. “Obviously, I think our whole secondary has done a really good job of tackling. Run after the catch is huge. It’s going to be big against the Colts, so we’ve got to continue doing that. But we did a nice job with it.”

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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