Ravens control fate in division and want to keep it that way
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) It's been four years since the Baltimore Ravens stood alone atop the AFC North in November.
The objective now is to stay there.
After overcoming a variety of injuries, a four-game losing streak and an offense that runs hot and cold, the Ravens (5-4) have worked their way into first place with seven weeks left in the season.
Though an imposing schedule looms ahead - beginning with a trip to Dallas (8-1) on Sunday - Baltimore currently doesn't have to rely on any outside help to get into the postseason as AFC North champs.
''Whether it's in a game or whether it's in a season, you want to get the lead,'' coach John Harbaugh said Monday. ''When you get the lead, you want to keep the lead. When you keep the lead, you want to expand the lead.''
After facing Dallas, the Ravens have two games left against division foe Cincinnati; visits to New England and Pittsburgh and a home matchup against improving Miami.
Baltimore faces the prospect of playing down the stretch without rookie guard Alex Lewis, who sustained a high ankle sprain on Thursday night against Cleveland and is expected to be out for at least six weeks.
''Hopefully we can get him back,'' Harbaugh said.
Baltimore went winless in October before defeating Pittsburgh and Cleveland in the span of five days. After using a strong second-half performance to dispatch the winless Browns 28-7 , the Ravens were given some time off to heal.
''They should be refreshed and ready to go'' on Tuesday, Harbaugh said.
Although Baltimore has already matched its win total from 2015, that was never really a goal. The Ravens are striving to earn a playoff berth, and for that to happen they have to play better.
''Obviously there have been stretches where it certainly didn't look like we were making any progress, but more of that showed up in the past two weeks,'' Harbaugh said. ''We need to continue to improve in every single area. The offense is something most people are looking at from a statistical standpoint, how we've done. That's probably had the farthest way to go.''
Joe Flacco threw three touchdown passes against the Browns but was also picked off twice. He has nine interceptions and nine TD passes and a lackluster 78.3 quarterback rating.
Part of the problem is that he's been working behind a makeshift offensive line that has been without five-time Pro Bowl right guard Marshall Yanda (shoulder) in three of the last four games. Regardless, Flacco must cut down on the turnovers if the Ravens are to win.
''He's got to clean some things up, certainly,'' Harbaugh said. ''But that's looking back. You've got to look forward. We need to move the ball, we need to make first downs. But we also need to do it in a way where we protect the football. That's always going to be the challenge for a quarterback.''
One reason why the Cowboys are flying high is that their quarterback, rookie Dak Prescott , has 14 touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He's working behind a solid offensive line and is backed by NFL rushing leader Ezekiel Elliott.
''He's made a lot of great decisions, very few interceptions,'' Harbaugh said. ''They've supported him with protection and a great run game. He's got some pretty good targets out there to throw to. He's the guy that's making it all go because he's the quarterback. It's going to be a challenge for us. We're going to try to slow him down a little bit.''
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