Ravens can’t-miss playoff formula: ‘Win 3 games in a row’

OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — After experiencing misery in each of the past two Decembers, the Baltimore Ravens are looking to rewrite the script in their quest to end a three-year playoff drought.

In 2016, a loss to Pittsburgh on Christmas night ended Baltimore’s bid to reach the postseason. Last year, a defeat at home against Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve sent the Ravens home.

Now, with three games left, the Ravens find themselves in a familiar position. Baltimore (7-6) has a shot to reach the playoffs as either AFC North champions or as a wild-card team, and there’s really only one can’t-miss way to make it happen.

“The way we look at it, we need to win three games in a row,” coach John Harbaugh said Monday. “We’ve been here before. Let’s do it. But all we need to think about right now is Tampa Bay, our upcoming opponent.”

There’s a good chance the Ravens will have quarterback Joe Flacco available for the first time since Nov. 4 when they face the fading Buccaneers (5-8) at home on Sunday. Flacco, a former Super Bowl MVP and veteran of 15 playoff games, appears ready to return from a right hip injury that sidelined him for four straight games.

Fortunately for the Ravens, rookie Lamar Jackson has done a credible job in his first stint as a starter. Subbing for the injured Flacco, the former Louisville star and first-round draft pick guided Baltimore through three straight wins before Sunday’s 27-24 loss in Kansas City on Sunday.

Jackson hurt his ankle in overtime against the Chiefs, but the injury evidently was not serious.

“Should be fine. Looks like it’s OK,” Harbaugh said.

If both quarterbacks are ready to go, Harbaugh must decide who to start and how to play them. Perhaps he already has.

“I’ll just have to let you know — if we want. It could entail anything right now,” the coach said. “I know what we want to do. I have a plan. We have a plan. We talked about it. We have to talk to the guys about it, and whether we share that publicly, we’ll decide as the week goes on.”

The plan likely involves using both quarterbacks, just as the Ravens did before Flacco’s injury. The difference now is that Jackson has more experience, and the Ravens have played exceptionally well with him at the helm.

“I haven’t had a chance to sit down and talk with all the parties involved, but I think it stands to reason that if Joe’s ready to go, he’ll be part of the game plan,” Harbaugh said. “He’s too good a player not to be. We’ll just figure that out as we go this week, to what degree and how it works. Everybody will know going in, except perhaps everybody outside.”

Baltimore currently sits a half-game behind Pittsburgh within the division, thanks to the Steelers’ surprising loss in Oakland on Sunday. Harbaugh learned of the defeat shortly before the team charter touched down on its trip from Kansas City.

“I was happy. Very happy,” he said.

The Ravens have Tampa Bay, the Los Angeles Chargers (10-3) and Cleveland (5-7-1) left on the schedule. Pittsburgh (7-5-1) has New England (9-4), New Orleans (11-2) and Cincinnati (5-8).

Baltimore is also the sixth and final wild-card team in the AFC, so if the Steelers don’t falter, the Ravens can still reach the postseason for the first time since 2014.

“It helps, sure,” Harbaugh said of having multiple routes to the playoffs. “We just need to win games and let all that take care of itself.”

NOTES: Although Ravens fullback and defensive lineman Patrick Ricard apologized on Sunday for racist and homophobic tweets made six years ago, Harbaugh said, “I don’t care when it happens. … It’s unacceptable. He knows that. He’s said that.” Harbaugh said the team has not decided whether disciplinary action would be taken. … Ravens CB Marlon Humphrey (groin) saw limited action Sunday and has been slow to heal. “It’s probably something that’s he’s going to be feeling for a while,” Harbaugh said.

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