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Spotlight on: Bernard Pollard

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Spotlight on: Bernard Pollard

Few Ravens saw their stock rise more in 2011 than safety Bernard Pollard.

His prior team, the Houston Texans, didnt mind letting him go after the 2010 season, during which he failed to record an interception. When he signed with the Ravens after the lockout, he was expected to compete with Tom Zbikowski for the starting job alongside Ed Reed, and many saw their competition as a tossup.

Well, it wasnt.

Pollard won the job and became a play-making fixture in the secondary, finishing fourth on the team in tackles and third in passes defended, relegating Zbikowski to a backup role as the Ravens advanced to the AFC title game.

After the season, the Ravens let Zbikowski, their 2008 third-round draft pick, depart as a free agent (he signed with the Indianapolis Colts) and gave Pollard a nifty three-year contract extension, turning him into a cornerstone.

Entering the 2012 season, the Ravens see their secondary as one of their strengths, with Pollard a key component. According to the wonks at Pro Football Focus, he has piled up the fourth-most tackles of any NFL defensive back over the past three years while ranking in the top 10 in total quarterback pressures.

Quite simply, the hard-hitting Pollard showed himself to be a perfect fit for the Ravens aggressive defensive style in 2011. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano utilized him almost as an extra linebacker, sending him into the run defense to blow up tacklers and runners as well as defend passes. Paganos replacement, Dean Pees, surely took note and will follow Paganos lead in 2012.

That Pollard is settled and comfortable in Baltimore was plainly apparent during the spring season of minicamp and OTA practices. Pollard was impossible to miss, his loud voice stirring the energy of players on both sides of the ball.

"Bernard showed last year that he is a Raven, Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome said. He's smart, tough and brings a passion to the games, our practices and in the weight room. His physical presence on the back end is very important to the way we play defense."

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John Harbaugh has zero time for Ravens banter, media scrutiny

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USA TODAY Sports

John Harbaugh has zero time for Ravens banter, media scrutiny

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens will play the most crucial game of their 2018 season when they host division rival Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11 of the 2018 NFL Season.

Sitting at 4-5 and third in the AFC North, playoff contention and job security have filled the headlines of local media outlets. Mix in an injured quarterback to the equation, and suddenly this below .500 Ravens team has the attention of the nation.

The unwanted attention is something the Ravens have experienced before, having missed the playoffs each of the previous three seasons. However, the unwanted attention Baltimore is getting 11 weeks into the season is more potent than ever.

Head coach John Harbaugh isn't here for any of it.

"We’ll write the story of the Ravens’ 2018 season by how we play in the next seven weeks," Harbaugh said Monday via the team's website.

"That’s what our guys are juiced up for. All the other stuff is just fluff; it’s just noise; it’s just banter. It’s barroom talk. Turn on the TV, it’s two guys talking in the bar, supposedly – except it’s all choreographed, you know? ‘You take this side, I’ll take that side.’ It’s all B.S. We don’t care! We have to go play."

The Ravens enter this matchup with a fresh mentality and a fresh set of legs after spending Week 10 on their bye.

Three straight losses is enough to invade anyone's headspace after starting their season 3-1. But with seven games to play, Harbaugh is reminding his team they're in control of their own destiny. 

"I told the guys, ‘Have you watched the NFL? It’s week-to-week. This is how it goes. Crazy things happen.’ We’re right there. We’re in the hunt just like everybody else. We’re fighting."

Mathematically, the Ravens aren't out of the hunt yet. Despite their record, they are just one game out of the final wildcard spot in the AFC.

The 27% chance they have at the moment of making the playoffs is certainly nothing to write home about, but a win on Sunday makes January football look less far-fetched. 

"It will be determined over the course of the next seven games who is going to make the playoffs," Harbaugh said. "It won’t be determined by what’s gone before. It will be determined by what goes forward. If we want to be one of those teams, then we have to go earn it – make it happen. There are those who write history and those who make history. Well, you know what? If you have a chance to make history, then you write the history, too"

The head coach will be writing his own history over the next seven weeks as well. The reports that his job status is on the line after 11 seasons can be added to the laundry list of things Harbaugh's not worried about.

"Again, it’s just noise; it doesn’t matter; it means nothing. It’s not something that I’m going to think about or concern myself with. Neither are the players, neither is Steve [Bisciotti], neither is Kevin [Byrne], or Ozzie [Newsome] or anybody else. You know what we want to do as an organization? We want to win – that’s what we want to do. We want to win. We’re fighting as hard as we can – coaches, players – as an organization to win. That’s it. All the other stuff – who cares?”

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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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