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Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

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Playoff-bound Ravens must get healthy and improve

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) The Baltimore Ravens are playoff bound, and that's about the best thing that can be said about them.

They've lost three in a row and have more than a half-dozen key players sidelined with injuries. Still, Baltimore (9-5) backed into the postseason late Sunday when Pittsburgh lost to Dallas.

The Steelers' loss assured the Ravens of at least wild-card berth, although their excitement over the accomplishment has been blunted by their longest losing streak since 2009 and the knowledge that they must improve to mount a serious postseason run.

The Ravens entered December with a three-game lead in the AFC North. The margin has shrunk to one game (over Cincinnati) with two to play.

``We've got work to do,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ``We're going to fight like crazy to become the team we're capable of becoming. We're not that team yet. It's a long season, but all of our goals and all of our dreams are squarely in front of us.''

That Ravens have the longest current run of consecutive playoff appearances in the NFL. They failed to reach the Super Bowl in any of their previous four forays into the postseason, and that unfortunate string will continue if Baltimore plays as it did the past three weeks.

After losing to Pittsburgh at home and at Washington, the Ravens were dominated from the start Sunday in a 34-17 home loss to Denver. After getting off to a fine 9-2 start, Baltimore is backpedaling in very untimely fashion.

``We've owned the last three losses. We also own the nine wins,'' Harbaugh said. ``We are what we are, we are what our record says we are and we're in contention. We're proud of that. But we know we have to get better and we have to get healthy.''

The injury list is expanding rather than shrinking. Linebacker Terrell Suggs (torn right biceps) and cornerback Jimmy Smith (abdomen) returned Sunday, but Ray Lewis remains sidelined with a torn right triceps and Harbaugh said Monday that inside linebacker Jameel McClain will miss the remainder of the season with a bruised spinal cord.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe has missed three straight games with a sprained ankle, and Harbaugh acknowledged that the team ``might need to see who's available'' outside the organization.

The Ravens finished Sunday's game without wide receiver Torrey Smith and running back Bernard Pierce, both of whom had concussions. Their status, along with that of guard Marshal Yanda (ankle), safety Bernard Pollard (chest) and tight end Ed Dickson (knee), remains uncertain heading into Sunday's home game against the New York Giants (8-6).

Injuries are only part of the problem. The Ravens simply haven't played well this month, and although they remain in control of the division their uneven play has created a genuine cause for concern.

``Right now I am embarrassed as a player to come out and perform the way we have,'' safety Ed Reed said. ``...It hits you in your heart when you lose three straight and you had an opportunity to close out your division the last three weeks. It's terrible.''

Asked to assess the frustration level of the team, cornerback Corey Graham replied, ``"It's at a max. I don't know about everybody else, but I know I'm frustrated. I know we've got to get better, I know we've got to make plays, and we've got to find a way to finish and get it done. We're not doing that as a team, and when you're not doing that you're not going to win games.''

Harbaugh attempted to shake things up last week by firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and handing the job to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell. Unfortunately, the offense was miserable against the Broncos. Baltimore failed to get a first down until deep into the second quarter, quarterback Joe Flacco had two turnovers by halftime and the Ravens scored their only touchdowns after Denver built a 31-3 fourth-quarter lead.

Ray Rice was limited to 38 yards on 12 carries and Pierce gained 20 yards on five tries before leaving. In all, Baltimore could muster only 56 yards on the ground.

``We'd like to run the ball better than we did. I was a little disappointed in that,'' Harbaugh conceded. ``We tried to get that going and there just wasn't much happening there. We need to sustain. We need to be a little more consistent, make a few more plays and get first downs.

``It's really been the same issue all year and we understand that. We're struggling with inconsistency and that's something we have to find between now and when the playoffs start. We're going to work hard to do that. I don't think we're that far away.''

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Bengals tried to prepare for Lamar Jackson by having Andy Dalton emulate him in practice

Bengals tried to prepare for Lamar Jackson by having Andy Dalton emulate him in practice

Disgruntled or not, Andy Dalton is a team player.

The Cincinnati Bengals benched their starting quarterback last week in favor of rookie Ryan Finley after the team stumbled out to an 0-8 start with Dalton under center.

It was a humbling move for the nine-year veteran. But despite reportedly being unhappy with the team’s decision, Dalton has taken the benching in stride—even to the point of being willing to emulate the Bengals’ opposing quarterback on the scout team.

Ahead of their Week 10 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens, the Bengals tasked Dalton with adopting Lamar Jackson’s run-heavy style of play in practice, according to Bengals.com reporter Geoff Hobson.

Dalton has never rushed for more than 200 yards in a season during his NFL career, but did gain over 1,600 yards on the ground over his four years at TCU.

The Ravens went on to win 49-13, with Jackson posting a perfect passer rating of 158.3 along with 223 yards passing, 65 yards rushing and four total touchdowns.

As much as Dalton might have tried, it’s been tough for anyone to replicate the success Jackson—an MVP candidate—has been having this season. Maybe he’ll have better luck taking a page out of Derek Carr’s book before Cincinnati faces the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

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Ravens new defensive line additions Justin Ellis and Domata Peko ready to make impact

Ravens new defensive line additions Justin Ellis and Domata Peko ready to make impact

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Domata Peko thought he had blown his shot to play on the Ravens. 

Peko was brought in for a workout with the Ravens a few weeks ago, and offered a contract, but he turned the offer down and said the move wasn’t right for him.

Just a few weeks later, however, another situation arose with the Ravens and he jumped at the opportunity to sign in Baltimore.

“It went really well, I had an offer, but it wasn’t the right one for me,” Peko explained. “Big shoutout to the people upstairs, Eric did a great job communicating with my agency and they called me two days ago. We were able to get it done.”

The Ravens brought in Peko and another defensive tackle, Justin Ellis, after the team put Daylon Mack on IR and waived Ufomba Kamalu as well. With Michael Pierce’s ankle injury, the defensive line suddenly need a jolt of run-stopping ability.

A 14-year veteran, Peko played for the Bengals for 11 seasons before heading to the Broncos for two seasons. He hasn’t played on a team this year, but feels confident he can help the Ravens’ run defense right away.

“Coaching my son’s football team and doing individual drills with them, that’s how I was kind of staying in shape,” Peko said. “I’m super excited to be here in Baltimore and make a run. That’s why I’m here, to help the defense out and to do my job. As a 14-year-vet, as a nose-man, I feel like I can come right in and do my job and do my part to help us win.”

Peko is in a unique situation, however, having been apart of so many successful Bengals teams for the majority of his career. He’s been in the trenches with Ravens guard Marshal Yanda before, only on the other side. 

Now, he’ll try and help the team he played against for so many years make a push for a championship in the final weeks of the season.

“It does feel weird, playing with the Bengals for 11 seasons and playing up here, playing these guys twice a year,” Peko said. “It does feel a little bit weird, but I’m excited to put this purple and black on. I think I’ll look pretty good in it on Sunday.”

The other addition, Ellis, came from Oakland where he spent the previous five seasons. At 6-foot-2, 350-pound behemoth up front specializes in stopping the run. 

His opportunity came due to his release from the Raiders in October. 

“I’ve kind of been just focused on what’s in front of me,” Ellis said. “When I got the call, my agent thought it was a great opportunity.”

Coach John Harbaugh mentioned their “stout, physical ability,” which was one of the reasons the team added them on. Pierce’s unknown status didn’t hurt, either. Ellis and Peko will likely be big contributors moving forward, should Pierce be absent for any amount of time. 

With other defenders having made significant impacts early on like Josh Bynes, L.J. Fort and Marcus Peters, there’s hope that Peko and Ellis will be able to solidify a defensive line that suddenly is banged up.

“I’ve been just patiently waiting and anticipating the call,” Peko said. “Now that I got the call, I’m here, ready to work and ready to get after it and ready to show Baltimore what I can bring to the table.”

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