OAKLAND, Calif. -- Don't even mention style points to the Ravens. They couldn't care less that they had to endure an ugly 60-minute street fight Sunday to beat the oh-so-beatable Raiders 21-13 and earn their ticket to the playoffs.
So what if Raiders quarterback Charlie Frye was on pace to throw for 360 yards before the Ravens knocked him out of the game with back and ankle injuries?
Who cares if the Ravens needed two late turnovers -- compliments of Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell -- to secure a first-round playoff date with the Patriots in Foxborough, Mass.?
Hey, what doesn't kill your season only makes you stronger for the playoffs, right? At least that's the way the Ravens are taking Sunday's hard-fought win and, for that matter, their entire up-and-down season.
"In my 14 years, I've never had a pretty road to the playoffs," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "It's always been a grind. It's always been a grind. But there's no better thing than having that grind and then getting to the dance. You get in the dance, anything goes, anything goes. So now it's six teams in our [conference], six teams in the NFC.
"So now here we go all over again. I just like where we're positioned. I like the things we've been through, all the adversity. I just liked the way our team kept fighting. I just think it prepares you for everything. There's no pressure on us. We were in the same position last year. We had to win to get in. We did the same thing again this year so hopefully we can go further than we did last year."
Recap: Ravens 21, Raiders 13
If the Ravens accomplish that feat, they'll be in the Super Bowl.
Last year they beat Jacksonville 27-7 in their regular-season finale to finish 11-5 and earn the No. 6 seed. The Ravens and quarterback Joe Flacco, then just a rookie, went on the road to beat Miami and Tennessee, reaching the AFC title game against Pittsburgh. Baltimore's storybook season ended with a 23-14 loss to the Steelers, with Flacco throwing three interceptions.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh believes this year's team is in even better shape to make a Super Bowl run than last year's. Despite the red flags that flew Sunday in Oakland, he has a point.
Flacco can draw on that playoff experience, plus 16 more regular-season starts this season. Plus this year, Ray Rice has emerged as one of the NFL's elite multi-purpose backs, while Willis McGahee has turned into a touchdown scoring machine --– he rushed for 167 yards and three more scores.
|Willis McGahee and the Ravens are battle tested and ready for the playoffs. (AP)|
Then there's Harbaugh's belief that his team's hard knocks during the regular season will pay dividends in the postseason.
"I think that everything you go through in football or life makes you who you are and what you become if you handle it the right way," Harbaugh said. "You try to work all those things for good, and that's what our guys try to do. They try to throw away the negative and learn from the things that we can do better and become the best football team that we can possibly be. And if you watch this game there are a heck of a lot of things we can throw away and learn from.
"That's our challenge, and that never ends. Every week's a new week in the National Football League and we're looking forward to the fact that we're playing next week. And we're going to be a very formidable opponent. There's no doubt about that."
In Week 4, the Ravens gave the Pats all they could handle before falling at Foxborough. That was one of five losses Baltimore suffered by six or fewer points. The Ravens also lost to the Vikings and Colts by two points and the Bengals and Steelers by three.
"We felt like we should have got that one," Flacco said. "We have a chance to go up there and try to get it back and really prove to everybody and prove to ourselves that we can beat these guys. That's where it starts."
Lewis, naturally, has no doubt.
"I think one of the reasons why there is so much optimism is what we've been through," Lewis said. "We've been through so much. There's nothing that affects us. No ups and downs. Just like today. We came in and went back and forth.
"The bottom line was we said, 'Finish the game. Sixty minutes. Sixty minutes, let's see where we are at the end of the day.'"
Where the Ravens are is back in the playoffs, three wins away from the Super Bowl.