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For Ravens, It's Win Out or Be Left Out

Baltimore Remains Hopeful That 10 Victories Will Get It Into the Postseason

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 21, 2004; Page D03

OWINGS MILLS, Md., Dec. 20 -- The Baltimore Ravens generally don't need any extra incentive when they face AFC North division rival Pittsburgh, but they'll have it this week when the teams square off at Heinz Field. Baltimore's 20-10 loss to Indianapolis on Sunday night dropped the Ravens (8-6) into a four-way tie for the sixth and final playoff spot, and a victory over the Steelers (13-1) is a virtual necessity to stay in the playoff race.

The four AFC division champions are set, and the New York Jets (10-4) can secure a wild card and the fifth seed with a win against New England (12-2) this weekend. Baltimore is tied with Jacksonville, Denver and Buffalo for the final wild-card spot. The Jaguars have the easiest remaining schedule of the four teams; they host Houston (6-8) and travel to Oakland (5-9). Baltimore has to travel to Pittsburgh before returning home to face Miami (3-11).

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"The objective is to get to 10-6. We said all along, 'Does 10-6 get you in?' We'll find out," Baltimore Coach Brian Billick said in his weekly news conference. "There's multiple scenarios, multiple things have to happen. There's an incredible amount of football that has to be played before it's determined what the playoff picture is going to be."

If the Ravens and Jaguars finish 10-6, the tiebreaker will be strength of victory. Baltimore holds the tiebreaker over Buffalo thanks to its 20-6 win over the Bills on Oct. 24.

The Ravens -- who traditionally play well during the final two months of the season -- have lost three of their past four games, but Billick isn't too concerned. Two of those losses came on the road to AFC division winners New England and Indianapolis.

"I think you can read too much into it," said Billick, whose team had a November and December winning percentage of .683 in his first five seasons in Baltimore. "We've played some good teams, done some good things. We've had some things that have gotten us beat. It doesn't really go beyond that. Their mind-set's confident."

Linebacker Ray Lewis, who missed one series in the first quarter against Indianapolis with an injured wrist, should be okay, Billick said. Lewis likely will wear a cast or splint on the wrist against the Steelers. Several other players who were coming back from injuries -- such as running back Jamal Lewis (ankle), tight end Todd Heap (ankle) and cornerback Deion Sanders (foot) -- were sore after playing on the artificial turf inside the RCA Dome.

"With Jamal, Todd and Deion, with the nature of their injuries -- the ankle, the foot -- on that surface, that was our concern going in," Billick said. "I think we're okay. Obviously, we're less than 24 hours removed from the event. They're sore, more sore than they would have if they had been on a different surface, so we have to factor that in."

Lewis said last Thursday that his ankle was still aching and that he was having difficulty making cuts. But he looked sharp from the very start against the Colts, breaking off a 47-yard run (his second-longest of the season) at the end of the first quarter. Lewis finished with 130 yards on 20 carries, but only 40 of those yards and seven of those carries came after halftime. Billick said Lewis's ankle did not prevent him from running in the second half; the circumstances of the game did.

"The game took on a certain personality, and they were loading down the box to where that one drive took it down the field," Billick said. "They were prepared to stuff Jamal and we were able to get the right call in behind it."

Ravens Note: Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh has interviewed for the head coaching position at the University of Pittsburgh. Cavanaugh, who is in his sixth season with the Ravens, was the quarterback on Pittsburgh's 1976 national championship team.

"We're excited for Matt," Billick said. "When you have an opportunity to go home, and that's home for Matt, in a very special way, you have to support that all you can, and we do, obviously. . . . I've never been around a coach any more ready to be a head coach than Matt Cavanaugh."


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