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Ravens report card: Defense/special teams come through in pinch

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Ravens report card: Defense/special teams come through in pinch

We’ve already graded the offense for its effort in the Ravens improbable 23-20, overtime win at Pittsburgh. Now it’s time to grade the defense and special teams:

DEFENSIVE LINE: C+

The Ravens at times appeared to stop Le’Veon Bell inside, but he is a master at hesitation, patience and then hitting a hole late or changing direction. Bell would have been held under 100 yards if the game ended in regulation, but he finished with 129 yards on 22 carries. Brandon Williams finished with five tackles and Carl Davis continues to be an increasingly large part of the plan. He played 33 snaps at Pittsburgh, nearly twice as many as Timmy Jernigan.

LINEBACKERS: B-

The Ravens got pressure on Mike Vick, with four sacks, including two by rookie Za’Darius Smith on back-to-back plays. Daryl Smith finished with a game-high 13 tackles and a sack. The Ravens did a solid job in coverage and pursuit, which is one reason Bell was limited to 21 yards on seven receptions. Limiting his yardage after the catch was key. Tight end Heath Miller was held to one catch for 1 yard. Elvis Dumervil had six tackles and chased down Vick from behind for a sack, and he also was credited with the fourth-down stop in overtime when Vick tried to run for a first down.

SECONDARY: B-

The Ravens held Antonio Brown to 42 yards receiving, and granted, Vick being the quarterback had something to do with that. In fact, Vick’s best throw might have been a long pass in the end zone that went through Brown’s hands. There seemed to be a lot of room between Lardarius Webb and whoever he was covering. But the Ravens tackled better than they had in previous weeks. Will Hill finished with five tackles and made a great open-field stop on Antonio Brown for a 5-yard loss as Brown tried to reverse course. Cornerback Will Davis, making his Ravens debut after being acquired from the Dolphins two weeks ago, was a factor as well. He had a key third-down pass breakup just before the first Steelers missed field goal.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-

What more can be said about Justin Tucker? He not only tied the game at the end of regulation, but his 52-yarder that won it is the longest kick ever made by an opponent at Heinz Field. Michael Campanaro had one punt return for 14 yards, and although he might have suffered a significant injury, he looks better and better as the punt returner. The only blemishes on the special teams unit were a failed fake field goal and a 29-yard punt return by Antonio Brown that gave the Steelers great field position in overtime.

MORE RAVENS: Ravens report card: Offense revving up in win over Steelers

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Joe Flacco's status for Sunday's game vs. Bengals 'up in the air'

Joe Flacco's status for Sunday's game vs. Bengals 'up in the air'

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Carrying a three-game losing streak and a losing record, the Baltimore Ravens now face the burden of uncertainty at the quarterback position.

Joe Flacco is nursing a hip injury that could keep him out of Sunday's game against Cincinnati, an AFC North matchup that carries huge ramifications for the sagging Ravens.

With Baltimore coming off a bye, Flacco received an additional week of rest and treatment after sustaining the injury on Nov. 4 in the opening minutes of a 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh.

Flacco went the distance, completed 23 of 37 passes for 206 yards. His status this week, however, is unclear.

"He's getting treatment, just like all the guys are getting treatment, and we'll see," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "I'd say that we'll know more as the week goes on and I'm hopeful all our guys play, including Joe."

If Flacco can't play, rookie Lamar Jackson will likely get his first NFL start, although veteran Robert Griffin III is also an option. Griffin gets the nod in NFL experience, but he's been inactive in every game this season while Jackson has been used periodically because of his ability to run.

"It's up in the air. We're not worried about it," Harbaugh insisted. "We're blessed with a good quarterback room. It's a good thing, that's a positive thing. We've got three guys who can play. It's just like any other position in my mind. You go with the next guy and you roll."

The Ravens (4-5) reached their bye week with losses to New Orleans, Carolina and Pittsburgh. The skid ruined a decent start and left the team in recovery mode as it seeks to snap a run of three straight seasons without reaching the playoffs.

This is the 11th season that Harbaugh and Flacco have been together in Baltimore, and the coach would love to see his quarterback rally the Ravens into the postseason.

"Any direction we decide to go or we're forced to go, it will be based on the health of Joe. If Joe can play, he'll play," Harbaugh said. "He's rehabbing to play. Joe does not have to practice to play. He's practiced the whole season, he's practiced for 11 years. But he might practice. We just have to see how it goes."

The 33-year-old Flacco has played through many an injury throughout his career. He did so against the Steelers. His teammates feel that if he can walk, he will play.

"Joe is one of the toughest guys I've played with, maybe the toughest guy," guard Marshal Yanda said. "You never see him limping around, you never see him on the field showing any sign of weakness. He's just been a rock for us. I have nothing but respect for the guy."

Tackles Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and James Hurst (back) did not play against the Steelers, but both are expected to return Sunday when the Ravens begin a stretch -- with or without Flacco -- that will define their season.

"We're in the hunt," Harbaugh said. "We'll write the story of the Ravens' 2018 season by how we play in the next seven weeks. That's what our guys are juiced up for. Get the Cincinnati Bengals in as fast as we can, and let's go play the game.

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Despite 4-5 record, Ravens just one game out of final AFC playoff spot

Despite 4-5 record, Ravens just one game out of final AFC playoff spot

Their record and performance over the last month may not show it, but the Baltimore Ravens are just one game out of the No. 6 playoff spot in the AFC.

The Kansas City Chiefs (9-1), Los Angeles Chargers (7-2), Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2), New England Patriots (7-3), Houston Texans (6-3), Cincinnati Bengals (5-4), Tennessee Titans (5-4) and the Miami Dolphins (5-5) all rank above the Ravens. But a win Sunday against the Bengals would push the Ravens to the No. 6 spot as they own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Titans.

Beside remaining in playoff contention, a win Sunday is crucial considering head coach John Harbaugh's job is in question with his team sitting at 4-5, quarterback Joe Flacco is reportedly dealing with a hip injury and the possibility of rookie Lamar Jackson getting his first NFL start. 

After getting blown out 51-14 by the Saints, the Bengals fired defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Monday. Cincinnati's defense ranks last in the league in passing yards allowed (313.3) and total yards allowed (454.6). A rested Ravens team will have to take advantage of the first team in the Super Bowl era to surrender 500 yards in three straight games as they are among five teams within one game of the final wildcard spot. 

Getting shutout by the Bengals this season would give Andy Dalton and co. a two-game lead over the Ravens as well as possessing the tiebreaker. 

According to the New York Times' NFL Playoff Simulator, the Ravens have a 27% chance of making the playoffs heading into Week 11 with their remaining strength of schedule ranking at No. 27. 

After hosting the Bengals on Sunday, the Ravens host the Oakland Raiders (1-7), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-6) and Cleveland Browns (3-6), but have tough road games against the Atlanta Falcons (4-5), Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) and Los Angeles Chargers (7-2). 

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