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Ambitious Ravens now hungry for another shot at Broncos

by | Senior NFL Columnist

BALTIMORE -- Baltimore's Anquan Boldin said he's "really looking forward" to playing Denver again, and "was hoping" to see the Broncos one more time before this season was over. So as he gets his wish, there's something I'd like to ask.

Denver? Really? You must be kidding.

Baltimore doesn't have a chance against these guys. OK, so it has a chance ... but not much of one. Denver not only destroyed the Ravens three weeks ago, it did it in Baltimore where the Ravens lose about as often as it snows in San Francisco. Only this game's in Denver, where Denver hasn't lost since September ... and this game is against an opponent that hasn't lost, period, in over three months.

So why in the world would Boldin -- or anyone, for that matter -- want to see Peyton Manning, Von Miller, Champ Bailey ... you name it ... at 5,000 feet when you just got torched by them?

"Just because we lost to them," said Boldin.

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Common sense tells you the Ravens' playoff run ends next Saturday in Denver, even though they looked better -- much better -- in Sunday's 24-9 hammering of Indianapolis than they did last month against the Broncos. It's not just that it's Manning and an 11-game winning streak the Ravens must confront; it's that altitude and one of the greatest -- no, THE most formidable -- home-field advantage in the NFL, and, yes, that includes Seattle.

"I don't know how to tell you to defeat that altitude," said safety Bernard Pollard, "but it's going to take time to get used to. We got to be smart and understand it's a problem. So we got to attack it. If that means jogging when we get there, then we have to do it. We've got to be pros."

They've got to be something, anything they weren't when the two met on Dec. 16. Denver won that game easily, 34-17, but it was only 10-0 at the close of the first half when Joe Flacco threw a pass that Chris Harris turned into a 98-yard interception return for a game-clinching TD. Baltimore never recovered, and, yes, the Ravens can tell themselves they were in that game until Flacco's flub. But the reality is: They never really were.

"We were still losing," said Pollard.

Precisely. So how do they change that against the conference's No. 1 seed? Well, first of all, the Ravens were missing their top three tacklers for that contest -- including Pollard and linebacker Dannell Ellerbee. Both were back Sunday, though Ellerbee suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him in the fourth quarter. No problem, he told reporters, he'll play next weekend.

Linebacker Ray Lewis was back, too, and maybe you heard of the guy. He didn't play in that first loss to Denver, either, but he felt so good in his last home game Sunday that, midway through the contest he told trainers he wanted to take off his elbow brace.

"Everything I've done since I've been hurt," said Lewis, "has been to be back with my team, to be back clicking on all cylinders; not to come back and have to go in and come back out. I've never played my career like that, so I was totally ahead of the game."

So Lewis dropped a sure interception and didn't always click on all cylinders. He led the team in tackles, had one for a loss and inspired the Ravens to one of their best victories of the season -- with the Ravens keeping the Colts out of the end zone for the second straight playoff game here.

"We're poised to do something," said Lewis.

OK, I get that. But what? Baltimore's next game isn't about shutting down a rookie quarterback or stuffing an overachieving opponent. This is Peyton Manning and the most complete team in football. So tell me how Baltimore makes the corrections to avoid dejà vu all over again.

"We've got to be sound," Pollard said. "We've got the 'MacBook' (Manning) that's going to be under center. That dude's a friggin' computer. I mean, he's one of the best in the game, so we have to get in his face all the time.

"All you can try to do is contain him. You're not going to stop him. The guy is a machine. I've always called him a machine. The guy studies, he understands and he's able to process things. I just think for us ... as a team ... we have to continue to get in his face and disrupt things.

"We made some mistakes (Sunday), and the quarterback was able to scramble a little bit and make some plays. We cannot make those mistakes this week with No. 18."

And maybe they won't. I mean, if you're only as good as your last game, Baltimore's in good shape. Flacco produced his second-best passer rating of the season (125.6) and averaged a staggering 23.5 yards per completion. The defense forced two Andrew Luck turnovers and wasn't hurt by anyone but Adam Vinatieri. Boldin ripped off 145 yards in catches, including one for a touchdown, after going the first half without a reception. Then, of course, there are those defenders who were missing last month.

Still ...

"I would rather go through Denver, and that's what we got," said defensive end Pernell McPhee. "We got what we wanted because we know when we played them that's not how we play."

But that last game, when they brought down the hammer ...

"You can't necessarily say that," said McPhee. "Watch the first half of that game. We got in Peyton Manning's head. We hit him. We knocked him down. And we sacked him. Then in the second half they came out scoring, so it was kind of tough."

But if you can't beat them here ...

"But it's difficult to win in Baltimore," said McPhee, "and we've Ray Lewis. So it's difficult to beat us here ... but they did. So there's no reason we can't beat them down there."

I can think of a couple. But don't tell that to McPhee or Boldin because they don't want to hear it. They're convinced the result will be different this time, even though the stakes are higher, and Boldin can tell you why.

"We'll make it different," he said.

We'll see.


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