The Baltimore Ravens' John Harbaugh is usually the type of coach that doesn't place more emphasis on one game than another. That's why it stands out when he calls Sundays' game at the Cleveland Browns a "must-win." He didn't just do it once, but twice.
Asked about his "must-win" comment from a week ago, Harbaugh told reporters Monday, "As far as I am concerned, it’s a must-win game. Obviously, we’ll have eight games after that game, so it won’t be the last game. In my mind, we need to win that game this week, and I know Cleveland feels the same way, and they are going to be all loaded up the same way. I am standing by my words -- I want to win that game.”
I see this as Harbaugh trying to instill a sense of urgency with his team. After losing their team leader (Ray Lewis) and top cornerback (Lardarius Webb) to injuries, the Ravens came out lethargic at Houston a week ago and got routed by 30 points.
The message seems to have already gotten through to the team. Returning from a bye, only three players failed to arrive on time to Ravens headquarters Monday despite the travel complications resulting from Hurricane Sandy. Harbaugh singled out the efforts of linebacker Terrell Suggs.
"[Suggs] was in a situation where all of his flights were getting cancelled, a bunch of flights through different airports,” Harbaugh said. “He ended up getting into Raleigh (N.C.), and he and his wife drove up from Raleigh, driving in a rainstorm to get here in time for practice. A lot of guys did a good job of that and thought ahead and moved flights up, and I was proud of them for that.”
I don't agree with Harbaugh that this is a "must-win." The Ravens (5-2) can lose to the Browns and still get to 10 wins, which should secure a playoff spot in the AFC this season. No one will argue that this is an important game. The Ravens have looked shaky on the road all season and only have a one-game lead on the Steelers in the AFC North. Baltimore can chalk up the loss at Houston to the Texans being one of the best teams in the AFC. A loss at Cleveland would be a major blow to Baltimore's confidence.
The Ravens can't look at Sunday's game as a guaranteed win like they probably did earlier in the season. The Browns have won two straight home games and have a running back in Trent Richardson who can cause trouble for Baltimore's struggling run defense. Cleveland is starting to play with some confidence. Harbaugh wants his team to play the same way.