Even though the Baltimore Ravens are not playoff bound, they insist there is plenty to play for when they go against the New England Patriots today.
A victory would give the Ravens (8-7) their first winning season in the four-year history of the franchise.
"It's definitely important for us to finish up as strong as we can; and granted it's not going to get us into the playoffs, but we haven't done a few things very well the last couple weeks even though we've won and we've got to try and build on that," quarterback Tony Banks said. "Then also [a win would] get us momentum going into next season. I mean 9-7 gives you a lot better outlook for the next season, I think, than 8-8."
For the past few weeks, the Ravens have been motivated by the chance to make the playoffs, but those hopes ended last week when Buffalo beat New England in overtime. Without the incentive of a postseason berth, the Ravens might have difficulty in sustaining the intensity that helped them win their past four games.
"These guys feel good about themselves and they want to continue that," Ravens Coach Brian Billick said. "They don't want to lose that feeling going into this offseason. So I'd be very surprised if they're not very motivated, very upbeat."
Certainly, the Patriots (7-8), losers of six of their past seven games and out of the playoff hunt after starting the season 4-0, have little motivation. Coach Pete Carroll's job could be in jeopardy.
New England quarterback Drew Bledsoe has struggled recently, throwing for fewer than 200 yards in six of the past nine games. The Patriots had the NFL's top-ranked passing attack at one point this season but have fallen to eighth, and Bledsoe has been sacked 29 times over the past six games.
The Patriots have scored 17 points or fewer in their past seven games; the Ravens, meanwhile, have given up eight points in their past two games and their defense is ranked third in the league. Last week, Baltimore recorded its first shutout in franchise history against Cincinnati, sacking Bengals quarterback Jeff Blake a season-high seven times.
"We did a pretty good job [against Cincinnati]," linebacker Peter Boulware said. "But until we're the number one defense in the league, we're going to keep striving, keep shooting. We're playing a pretty good offense with Bledsoe. They've got a couple of good receivers and [former Redskins running back Terry] Allen in the backfield. It's going to be another good test so hopefully we can play well."
Forecasters predict a relatively balmy afternoon at Foxboro Stadium, with temperatures in the mid-50s.
That will give Baltimore's shaky offense one less thing to worry about. Last week against Cincinnati, the Ravens managed just one touchdown and settled for five field goals to pull out the win.
Baltimore hopes to be more productive against the Patriots.
"This group does not want to detract from what we've done up to this point, and we've done some pretty good things," Billick said. "But they don't want to leave this year with a little bit of that sour taste. No one ever does. To lose the last game, you've got to live with that the entire off-season. So there's plenty of motivation for them."