A few weeks ago the Baltimore Ravens (8-6) looked like a team that was headed in the wrong direction—an early departure from the AFC playoff race. After completely demolishing back-to-back NFC North opponents in the Detroit Lions (2-12) and Chicago Bears (5-9) by a combined total of 79 points, the Ravens have regained their prime December form, and are poised to make a deep run in the playoffs.
In an article I had written after the Ravens suffered a bitter loss to the Green Bay Packers, I called out the team for a string of lackluster performances. To put it bluntly, I said Baltimore "didn't deserve to make the playoffs." Such dialogue was premature on my part.
While I'm not rescinding anything I wrote in that article, I want to briefly clear up the message I was trying to convey, even though most readers were in agreement with the statement.
In the weeks leading up to, and including Baltimore's loss to the Packers, their level of play wasn't worthy of a playoff spot . This was a point I thought I made well. However, I don't want anything to be taken out of context, as in the entire Ravens team isn't deserving of a wild card birth.
If they win-out and beat the teams they're supposed to beat, convincingly, then the Ravens deserve to be rewarded with a playoff spot, just as much as any other team that's seeded in the playoffs now.
I hope this clears up most misunderstandings for the fans that follow me on Bleacher Report.
If anyone happened to catch Sunday's game against the Bears, you can easily see how the Ravens have turned themselves around both offensively and defensively — molding into a playoff quality team right before our eyes.
Even with all of the injuries to key players the Ravens had on both sides of the ball, Baltimore managed to hold Chicago scoreless on offense, allowing only a short punt to be returned for a touchdown on a special teams breakdown.
Jay Cutler was intercepted three times during the course of the game. Two of which came on Chicago's first two possessions early in the first quarter.
Domonique Foxworth stepped in front of a pass intended for Devin Aromashodu, which led to the Ravens' first touchdown of the game—a 14-yard pass by Joe Flacco to a wide-open Todd Heap.
The Second interception came when Jarret Johnson tipped an errant Cutler pass in the air, making an acrobatic catch as he fell to the ground. This set up yet another touchdown pass by Flacco to Heap, which was part of a four touchdown outing for Flacco, and two for the tight end Heap.
Joe Flacco's four touchdown performance was the best of his young career. He was sharp throughout the entire game, finishing 21-29 for 234 yards, and no interceptions.
Todd Heap was utilized more as a receiving tight-end due to the litany of injuries the Ravens had at wide receiver. Mark Clayton and Kelley Washington didn't see any action, and Derrick Mason was still playing with his nagging shoulder injury.
Demetrius Williams, Baltimore's second-string receiver, filled in nicely for the injured Clayton, racking up 71 yards on just four catches, including a 32-yard touchdown catch.
Williams continues to prove why he should be starting opposite Derrick Mason every week. The tall lanky receiver, continues to create mismatches for opposing teams when he's inserted into the lineup. He is blessed with big play-making ability and soft hands — not to mention he's an excellent route runner.
Part of the reason for the Ravens' success as of late, is the fact they continue to stay balanced on offense. While Willis McGahee wasn't as much of a factor this past Sunday, he didn't need to be with the continued success of Ray Rice.
Rice has emerged as one of the Ravens' top weapons since Week One. Rice finished the game with 87 yards on the ground, averaging 5.4 yards per carry. His key conversions on third down helped to keep the Bears' offense off the field for most of the game, allowing the Ravens' defense to stay fresh when they needed to most.
Baltimore's defense forced six turnovers in the game—a season high.
The extra rest the Ravens' defense had during the game, proved to be valuable. Baltimore came into the game more banged-up than ever on defense. Terrell Suggs continued to miss action due to a knee injury he suffered in the last meeting with the Cleveland Browns. Ed Reed missed his second straight game with an ankle injury, and a neck problem that's been plaguing him for two years.
Even with all of the major injuries on defense, young players like linebacker Paul Kruger and corner back Lardaruis Webb, continue to play soundly in place of their fallen comrades.
Webb did leave the game early in the third quarter with what appeared to be a slight ankle injury. However, during a Monday press conference, coach John Harbaugh stated he "was not optimistic" about the injury to the young talented player.
Frank Walker will be filling in for Webb until he's able to return. Walker is essentially claiming his starting role back by default, after he lost it midseason because of inconsistent play—almost downright terrible at times. It'll be interesting to see how well Walker can play in the midst of Webb's absence.
Now with back-to-back wins, for the first time since September, the Ravens have a firm grasp on their playoff destiny.
Holding the tie-breaker with the Denver Broncos, the Ravens currently sit as the fifth seed in the AFC playoff picture. The Broncos now hold the sixth.
If the Ravens can win-out, and divisional foe Cincinnati drops their last two games, Baltimore will be crowned division champs.
Baltimore knows what's at stake, and that the AFC North is still up for grabs. Given how dangerous the Ravens are in the month of December, their best football is yet to come.
And if the Ravens continue into the playoffs playing the type of football they're playing now, they will go a long way.
A Super Bowl appearance? I'm not counting them out in the slightest, and neither should the rest of Ravens' Nation.