OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- One year ago, Lamar Jackson was preparing to play in the TaxSlayer Bowl for Louisville.
Now, Jackson has put the Baltimore Ravens in position to win the AFC North title for the first time since 2012 and end a three-year playoff drought.
“I’m just growing each and every week,” Jackson said. “It’s still our team, like I said before, because I’m not out there blocking. I’m just doing my part.”
Baltimore can accomplish its goal by simply beating the resurgent Cleveland Browns in Week 17. The Ravens (9-6) paved their way with an impressive 22-10 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Pittsburgh Steelers then lost to the New Orleans Saints and dropped out of the playoff picture.
Baltimore has an 82.3 percent chance of making the playoffs and winning the division, according to ESPN's Football Power Index.
"At the beginning of the season, if we’d say that we control our destiny going into the last game to win the division, we would all sign up for that,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “We’re excited about that, and now we get to play a championship game."
Cleveland secured a 12-9 overtime victory over Baltimore in Week 5. The Ravens have since overhauled their offense with Jackson and have the league’s most dominant defense.
Last season, the Ravens’ secondary had a monumental collapse in the season finale against the Bengals that cost them a spot in the playoffs. In that game, the Ravens surrendered a 49-yard touchdown pass from Andy Dalton to Tyler Boyd on a 4th and 12 in the final minute that gave Cincinnati a 31-27 victory.
The Ravens are determined not to have a similar breakdown against Cleveland, which could also potentially knock them out of the postseason.
“We all have our own motivation,” Carr said. “I only have a few playoff games in my 11 years, so I have a lot of added motivation with that. But definitely, last year doesn’t sit well with us. We had a prime opportunity to extend our season, and we failed at it. We didn’t finish the job, so that’s why this year, the art of finish is big for us. Just finding ways to win this game by any means necessary, emptying your tank, giving it your all, and then we’ll reload for next week once we get there.”
Ravens coach John Harbaugh did not have much to say about a report saying the team is looking to extend his contract.
On Dec. 21, the Ravens announced they will retain their coach heading into next season and plan to begin negotiations for a contract extension. Harbaugh's current contract expires after next season.
When asked whether he has reflected on the teams announcement, Harbaugh replied: “No, I haven’t.”
When pressed further, Harbaugh would not take the bait,
He said the team is simply focused on beating the Browns in the regular-season finale, winning an AFC North title for the first time since 2012 and snapping a three-year playoff drought.
“I think it’s a non-story," Harbaugh said. "We’re just trying to win football games. We’ve kept it simple, kept it about football. Everybody is on a one-year deal. You’re on a one-week deal, as far as I’m concerned, in this league, players and coaches. That’s how we are. We get that.
"Players and coaches understand that. We don’t think too much about all of that. You try to go out and do your best the very next game, have the best day you can have, and that’s how we look at it. So, all that stuff is really not something that you dwell on or think about. There are a few other things to think about.”
40th regular-season meeting. Ravens lead series, 29-10. Under coach John Harbaugh, Baltimore is 18-3 against the Browns. The Ravens have also won five of six games against Cleveland, dropping a matchup earlier this season, 12-9 in overtime.
BY THE NUMBERS
38 – An NFL-high 10-play drives by the Ravens’ offense, with 19 resulting in touchdowns, -- also an NFL best.
-- LB Terrell Suggs. The 36-year-old veteran has shown he can still be a dominant player. Suggs is second on the team with seven sacks. He has benefited from the Ravens ball-control offense, which has kept him and the entire defense fresh late in games. Suggs will play a key role keeping Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield under constant pressure.
The Ravens revamped offense behind rookie Lamar Jackson has been impressive. Jackson has rushed for 605 yards, the most among all NFL quarterbacks. In his last six games alone, Jackson is 5-1 with 466 rushing yards, which ranks as the NFL’s eighth-most overall since Week 11. Baltimore needs to get its running game revved up to set the tone against a Cleveland defense that is ranked 29th in the league.
The Ravens defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL and has helped put the team back in the playoff race. Baltimore is tied for sixth with 43 sacks on the year. One of the keys for Baltimore will be shutting down Browns running back Nick Chubb to make quarterback Baker Mayfield try and win the game through the air. Hyde has been impressive and is ranked ninth in the NFL with 972 yards with eight touchdowns.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Ravens secondary vs. Browns QB Baker Mayfield: The Ravens will try to confuse Mayfield with multiple blitz packages and different looks in the secondary. Mayfield, however, will not be intimidated. He was 25 of 43 for 342 yards with a touchdown and interception in the first meeting between the teams. “He’s grown. He’s a good player,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. “I don’t compare; who cares how much he’s grown since the last time we played him? It’s not our job to determine that or to measure that. Our job is to compete against him and try to stop him – him and the whole team, and that’s the challenge. Their offense revolves around the quarterback, Baker Mayfield. He’s playing very well.”
Ravens QB Lamar Jackson vs. Browns DE Myles Garrett: Jackson lead the Ravens rushing attack that is ranked second in the NFL with 2,145 yards. The Ravens have developed more balance over the past several weeks, but Jackson will look to control the tempo with the run-pass option. He has to be wary of Garrett, who is tied for sixth in the NFL with 12.5 sacks. Two of Garrett’s three forced fumbles led to Browns touchdowns.
Cleveland wants to shut down the run game and force Jackson to make plays through the air.