Turning point, one way or the other, that is… Even a big win over the Bengals in Baltimore this second Sunday in November won't take the must-win pressure off the Ravens in the following week. But it would at least keep the wheels turning in the right direction for a team that hasn't seen a losing season since John Harbaugh arrived in 2008.
Coach John Harbaugh talked to his reeling 3-5 team this week about the need to get off to a fast start against the Bengals (6-3).
If the Ravens are going to turn their season Sunday, they need Flacco, who has thrown 10 touchdowns with nine interceptions while completing just 59.4% of his passes, to rediscover that zone when he threw 11 touchdowns without an interception during four consecutive postseason wins.
It would help if Flacco got more help from a running game that is averaging a league-worst 2.8 yards per carry.
Defenses have been stopping tailback Ray Rice and daring Flacco to beat them after the quarterback lost tight end Dennis Pitta to an August hip injury and postseason go-to receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers.
"It's tough in the NFL to go out there and try to be Superman,'' Flacco said. "It's just impossible to do that.
"It's frustrating when you're running off the field and you're not getting first downs, and you're not scoring points.
"And that obviously has something to do with it – not being able to get that going. But we've got to be better in other parts of our game in order to help that out and overcome that. We haven't been able to get it going enough. And we haven't been able to overcome it enough when it hasn't worked for us.''
The quarterback trying to emulate Flacco's 2012 postseason groove is Bengals third-year starter Andy Dalton, who has led his team to two one-and-done postseason cameos.
Like Flacco, Dalton started as a rookie and now he's trying to show he's capable of leading his team to a Super Bowl championship. "There are definitely some things that are very similar to how our careers have gone and how things have started,'' Dalton said on a conference call. "Hopefully, I can do what he did last year.
Flacco has been sacked 25 times behind an offense line that has struggled to open holes for a 29th-ranked rushing attack.
"All our problems now are on us,'' receiver Torrey Smith said. "We've got to go out there and get it done. There is no motivational speech, no action, no scheme change or anything that's going to happen that's going to magically make us turn it around. We've got to go out there and play ball. It's really that simple.''
Despite their struggles, these Ravens have taken on the persona of their even-keeled leader in that they never panic. "Joe is confident, poised, the guy you want back there at the helm,'' said left tackle Eugene Monroe, who arrived from Jacksonville in an Oct. 3 trade. "Our emphasis is to start fast, come out with some fire and get some points on the board early."
"We're scratching to get a win.''
WHO'S PLAYING? WHO'S NOT PLAYING?
Cornerback Corey Graham and LB Daryl Smith will be ready to play— cornerback Jimmy Smith is listed as questionable…
“I feel great,” Graham said. “I was able to go out there and run around, and I’m coming along good and I should be ready to go.”
Smith did not speak with the media in the locker room Friday.
If Smith or Graham is unable to play, then Chykie Brown would serve as the No. 3 corner when the Ravens work out of the nickel package. Brown does have starting experience from last year when the Ravens dealt with injuries.
In addition to Smith and Graham battling injuries, starting safety James Ihedigbo (toe) also appeared on the injury report Friday for the first time this week. He was limited in practice Friday and is listed as questionable.
With all the injuries in the secondary, second-year cornerback Asa Jackson will provide depth after getting moved to the active roster Friday when the team placed Kelechi Osemele on injured reserve. Jackson was suspended for the first eight games of the season.
“Asa looked good,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said. “It looked like he was in shape. Like always, [he was] working the little nuances of the game and stuff like that. After a few weeks off, those are things in terms of knocking the rust off. But I thought he was surprisingly sharp, and he looked good.”
Starting outside linebacker Terrell Suggs (foot) and middle linebacker Daryl Smith (thigh) both landed on the injury report and had to miss practice time. After sitting out Thursday, they returned to action on Friday and Smith was optimistic about playing Sunday.
“It feels good and I’m looking forward to Sunday,” Smith said. “A couple days of rest and rehab and I should be ready to ride.”
Suggs did not talk with reporters, but he is listed as probable. If he were to sit out, Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw would likely start.
Daryl Smith has started every game at middle linebacker this year and leads the Ravens with 71 tackles. If he is unable to play, then Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes would likely start at inside linebacker.
Wide receiver Brandon Stokley (thigh) has not played since Week 3, and he is questionable for this week’s game. The veteran receiver did not practice Wednesday or Thursday, and returned as a limited participant Friday.
Rookie wide receiver Marlon Brown (finger) was a full participant Thursday and Friday and is listed as probable.
The Bengals are also dealing with injuries of their own, as starting linebacker Rey Maualuga (knee) has been ruled out. Reserve defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow) has also been ruled out this week.
With Maualuga out, Vincent Rey is expected to get the start at middle linebacker.
The Bengals defensive line took a huge hit when nose tackle Geno Atkins suffered a torn ACL in last week’s game and is out for the season.
The other injuries for the Bengals are tight end Jermaine Gresham (groin) and running back Giovani Bernard (ribs), who are both questionable. Guard Kevin Zeitler (hamstring) is probable and linebacker Mike Boley (hamstring) is doubtful.