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Harbaugh won't let Ravens coast into playoffs

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Harbaugh won't let Ravens coast into playoffs

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) Now that they've finally wrapped up another AFC North crown, the Baltimore Ravens intend to get healthy, close out the regular season with a win and take some momentum into the playoffs.

Baltimore (10-5) snapped a three-game skid and clinched its second straight division title Sunday with a 33-14 rout of the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. No matter what happens in this Sunday's finale against Cincinnati, the Ravens will host a first-round playoff game on Jan. 5 or 6.

But coach John Harbaugh won't let Baltimore coast into the postseason. After watching Baltimore click in all phases against the Giants, he's looking for an encore against the Bengals.

``That's how you improve, that's how you get you better,'' Harbaugh said Monday. ``Momentum, sure it's a good word. What does that mean exactly? It means that we're improving. The idea is we have plenty of things to work on, and we've got to continue to improve to be the best we can in the playoffs. This week is an opportunity to do that.''

If Baltimore wins and New England loses to Miami, the Ravens get a No. 3 seed and open the postseason against Cincinnati. Harbaugh said he knows all the possibilities - and doesn't really care.

``We kind of understand what has to happen all across the board as far as where that could shake out on Sunday,'' he said. ``But there's no way to say for sure what's going to happen, so we'll just have to see how it plays out.''

If the game is blowout, Harbaugh will consider removing some of his starters. But he's not counting on that happening.

``The biggest thing is that you can't play this game at half speed. Our guys are going to play the game full speed to win,'' he said.

The Ravens are 4-3 on the road, so this could serve as a tuneup for potential games at New England, Denver or Houston.

``It's a plus for us, an opportunity to go play on the road like this in a real tough environment,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's a rivalry game, it's in the division. These two teams play it out pretty good every single time. So yeah, it'll help us build up our callouses a little bit for the playoffs.''

Prior to Sunday's win over New York, the Ravens appeared to be regressing after a 9-2 start. Their losing streak began with three-point losses to both Pittsburgh and Washington and ended with a 34-17 embarrassment at home against Denver.

Against the Giants, however, the Ravens scored touchdowns on their first two possessions, led by 17 at halftime and never let New York back into it.

``We've been practicing really well throughout the course of the last four weeks,'' Harbaugh said. ``At some point in time it's going to show itself on the field on game day. It was our best overall performance, I think. It was the best we've done at putting all three phases together and playing well. We blocked, we tackled, our playmakers made plays. We didn't turn the ball over. We didn't do the things that cost us and hurt us like we did in the other three games.''

Quarterback Joe Flacco, who had six turnovers during the losing streak, threw for 309 yards and didn't give the ball away once. If he and the Ravens play like that in the postseason, Baltimore will be dangerous.

``I said last week we're going to see what kind of team we are. We believe we're this kind of team,'' Flacco said after the Ravens' dominating performance. ``We're really going to see if we are. I think that we showed ourselves and we showed people that we are that kind of team. We're here to stay, and we just have to do all we can to get better, to play like this, and even get better than this throughout the remaining weeks.''

One reason for the Ravens to give their all this Sunday is that it's another chance for the offense to get in sync with coordinator Jim Caldwell, who replaced the fired Cam Cameron two weeks ago. The Baltimore attack sputtered against Denver in its first foray under Caldwell, then racked up 533 yards against New York.

``That's the way we can play,'' said wide receiver Torrey Smith, who returned from a concussion.

Baltimore won't have linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) against the Bengals because Harbaugh wants to give the 17-year veteran more time to recover from an injury that has kept him sidelined since Oct. 14.

But the Ravens hope to have back safety Bernard Pollard, who's missed two straight weeks with a chest injury, and receiver Anquan Boldin, who left with a bruised shoulder in the second half against New York.

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The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Ravens' future isn't Joe Flacco - but they don't want to face him in the AFC

The Baltimore Ravens made it clear after their Wild Card loss that Lamar Jackson would be their quarterback going forward, bringing the somewhat official end to Joe Flacco's 11-year career with the team.

So what's next for the Super Bowl MVP?

Retirement after a fruitful NFL career is an option, but in a league where teams are desperate for a seasoned veteran, Flacco could find himself with another affluent contract. The Ravens, too, could get something nice in return.

"Let's start with a second-round pick," former Redskins GM Charley Casserly said. "It's negotiable, we're going to keep him in pencil. Who am I not going to trade him to? Well, I may not have a choice. I may only have one trade pick. I don't want him in the AFC. I don't want this guy costing me a playoff position next year."

There are several AFC teams in need of a QB, too. The Miami Dolphins and Jacksonville Jaguars would jump at the chance to get Flacco under center.

But it may not be that easy for the Ravens.

"If the team wants to renegotiate his contract, Flacco controls the trade," Casserly adds. "He can simply say, 'no' [and the] Ravens may have to just release him and let Joe go his own way." 

The former GM adds that he expects something to be settled come March. Why? Casserly places Teddy Bridgewater and Nick Foles as hotter free agency pickups for QB needy teams, and with the 2019 NFL Draft not offering a ton in terms of first-round quarterbacks, the Ravens may have to act fast in order to get a return on their investment. 

One team that is definitely in need of a QB1 is the Washington Redskins. The idea could interest Flacco as his family of seven could stay put in the DMV area. But can the Redskins afford Flacco? 

The team is facing a huge cap charge with Alex Smith, whose career is in question after suffering a catastrophic leg injury, and a rookie they can mold could make more sense than a 34-year-old Flacco.

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.

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