Ravens thankful short-week showdown's at home

The Baltimore Ravens don't have time to enjoy their newfound status as the leaders of the AFC North and the overall conference, and that may be a good thing. Baltimore's 31-24 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday was certainly meaningful and welcomed, but the team's focus must shift quickly to the 9-1 49ers, who will visit M&T Bank Stadium for a Thanksgiving night showdown.

The abbreviated week of practice places an emphasis on being mentally prepared while also trying to accelerate the recovery process from Sunday's win.

"You have to watch more film, you've got to get in the playbook more, the way we have to practice, the walkthrough-type style," outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "We'll do some up-tempo stuff, but not as much as normal. You just really have to lock in mentally."

The good news for the Ravens is that they get to stay in the comfort of their own homes and familiar surroundings, while San Francisco must take a cross-country flight Wednesday and spend the holiday in a hotel.

"I would say that's tougher for them," right guard Marshal Yanda conceded. "It's West to East Coast for them, and they've got to fly Wednesday. But I don't know if it's going to be an advantage. It depends on their team. They're a good football team, so I would say no. But yes, that would suck. They've just got to deal with it."

Getting healthy is just as significant. After a grueling contest against the Bengals, Baltimore must now face a 49ers squad that has ditched the label of being soft and is now regarded as one of the more physical teams in the league.

The Ravens' largest injury concern is the status of inside linebacker Ray Lewis, whose streak of 57 consecutive starts ended Sunday because of a toe ailment.

The 12-time Pro Bowler practiced on a limited basis for the second straight day Tuesday, but it's unclear whether he will be able to play Thursday night.

"The challenge is going to be being healthy," said free safety Ed Reed, who has been dealing with neck soreness the past couple of weeks. "Short week, guys got banged up. I got banged up. We've got to make sure we're taking the time and being smart with it. We'll be ready. This game was on the schedule a long time ago, and guys will be ready."

In addition to the logistical obstacles, the Ravens also have to deal with the hype surrounding the chess match between Baltimore coach John Harbaugh and San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.

The Thanksgiving night matchup will pits two brothers against each other as head coaches for the first time in NFL history.

"I've never rooted against him, really ever," said John Harbaugh, who is 15 months older than Jim. "We played against each other one time in baseball in high school, an American Legion team. My dad (Jack Harbaugh) was actually coaching Jim's team, and we won, 1-0. That's the last time I remember our teams going (against each other). We're always on the same team all the time. It's going to be a little different that way, but really, it's not about that. We're not going to be playing. It's going to be the players playing in the game."

John Harbaugh has a larger track record as a NFL head coach than his younger brother. Under John Harbaugh, who succeeded Brian Billick prior to the 2008 season, Baltimore has qualified for the postseason in each of the last three years and is in contention to capture the club's first AFC North title since 2006.

Jim Harbaugh has the 49ers positioned to win the NFC West and possibly overtake the Packers as the top seed in the NFC, but he acknowledged that his older brother's success has inspired him.

"His success with the Ravens over the three and a half years he's been there, I guess I saw that reflect back on me," Jim Harbaugh said. "'Look at how well John's doing. ... Maybe (I'm) cut from the same cloth.' So in so many ways, John has knocked down hurdles and continues to do so for me."

Ravens notebook

---- Thursday night's game could be interesting, especially at the end of the game during the head coaches' postgame handshake. Back on Oct. 16, Jim Harbaugh was involved in a brouhaha that began with an aggressive handshake with Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, who chased after Harbaugh and became embroiled in a verbal confrontation. Ravens outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is one person who is intrigued by the thought of Jim and John Harbaugh meeting at the end of the contest. "It's going to be fun, all the politics that have to do with this game between the two coaches," Suggs said. "Regardless of the end result, I can't wait to see the handshake. That's going to be awesome."

---- In just eight starts, rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith has become the deep threat quarterback Joe Flacco has been looking for. Lee Evans, the man Smith replaced in the starting lineup, returned for the Ravens' 31-24 win against the Bengals on Sunday. Flacco said it shouldn't be too hard to re-acclimate Evans to the offense. "At least we got a little bit of work in when he first got here," Flacco said. "If you throw a guy in there – especially a guy like Lee – he has fresh legs, he can run as it is. It's really just about having confidence and doing the right thing. As long as he does the right thing, he should be in the right position, and there should be no reason why we can't connect."

---- Tom Zbikowski got the first nod to replace recently demoted David Reed, returning one kick for 26 yards Sunday. But Zbikowski did not return another after getting drilled by Bengals safety Taylor Mays at the end of the return, and Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb split the remaining kick returns. After the game, Zbikowski wrapped a large bag of ice around his right knee, but he said the knee was just sore. He acknowledged that the soreness led to the decision by the team to have Carr and Webb take over kick returns. "I wasn't feeling too good cutting, and I didn't want to put our team at a disadvantage," Zbikowski said. "So I played through it, and hopefully they'll have confidence in me to put me back there again."

---- David Reed's inactive status against the Bengals was the first time the kick returner had been a healthy scratch since Oct. 24, 2010, against the Bills. It's a scenario that Reed is hoping doesn't become a habit. "I want to play," said Reed, who had his kick-return duties stripped from him after fumbling three times in his previous two games and losing two in a 22-17 loss to the Seahawks on Nov. 13. "I don't like feeling like that. I want to contribute any way I can to the team. Not being able to play definitely hurt, and I want to try to avoid that."

---- Baltimore's first game without ILB Ray Lewis since the end of the 2007 season went surprisingly well. Bengals RB Cedric Benson scored two touchdowns, but he was limited to 2.7 yards per carry on 15 attempts as ILB Jameel McClain led the defense with nine tackles and LB Dannell Ellerbe filled in capably in his first start since Sept. 26, 2010. Lewis is questionable for the Thanksgiving clash with the 49ers, who boast the NFL's seventh-leading rusher in Frank Gore (870 yards). Gore is tied with TE Vernon Davis for the team lead in touchdowns (five). If Lewis can't play, what McClain and Ellerbe can do for an encore will be key.

---- Former kicker Matt Stover became the seventh inductee to the Ring of Honor at M&T Bank Stadium during halftime last week. Stover's accomplishments in his 13-season tenure with the Ravens and 20-year career in the NFL include ranking fourth in NFL history in both career points (2,004) and field goals made (471), seventh in field-goal accuracy (83.7 percent on 471-of-563 kicking) and first in field goals made outdoors (445) and field-goal accuracy outdoors (84.9 percent). "It's been a privilege to be here with you, and it's been a privilege to serve you on the field," Stover said. "The last thing I want to say is when my name goes up there, your name goes up there, too. Thank you, Baltimore."

Ravens report card: Baltimore 31, Cincinnati 24

PASSING OFFENSE: B -- Quarterback Joe Flacco completed 17-of-27 passes for 270 yards and tossed two touchdowns. He did make one terrible decision when he failed to see Cincinnati cornerback Nate Clements shadowing tight end Ed Dickson, but for the most part, Flacco was efficient. Wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith each caught a touchdown, and Smith, who caught four passes of 20 yards or more, was too much for the Bengals defense. Running back Ray Rice was Flacco's usual safety valve for Flacco on short routes.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- After being a non-factor in two of the previous four contests, Rice made his presence known early and often. Aside from his usual contributions in the passing game, Rice gained 104 rushing yards on 20 attempts, including a 59-yard run through the heart of the Cincinnati defense. Rice also aided the offense's efficiency in the red zone, scoring twice. The offensive line performed well in opening running lanes for Rice. Fullback Vonta Leach was especially bruising in goal-line situations for Rice.

PASS DEFENSE: C -- Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw for a career-best 373 yards as a few of the Ravens' defensive backs failed to turn around and either contend for the ball or avoid pass interference calls. Wide receiver Jerome Simpson looked like injured teammate A.J. Green, catching eight balls for 152 yards. But cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith and free safety Ed Reed each corralled interceptions, and a ferocious three-man rush doomed Cincinnati on its final possession of the contest.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- After surrendering 109 yards and one touchdown on 32 attempts to Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch last week, the run defense – without 12-time Pro Bowl inside linebacker Ray Lewis – fared much better against Bengals tailback Cedric Benson, who accounted for 41 yards on 15 carries. But Benson did score two touchdowns, and backup Bernard Scott averaged 4.4 yards on nine carries. Inside linebacker Jameel McClain, who stepped into Lewis' role, led Baltimore in tackles with nine.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Benching and deactivated kick returner David Reed for three fumbles in his last two games meant that the Ravens valued ball security more than potential rewards. Tom Zbikowski held onto the ball after being drilled by Cincinnati safety Taylor Mays for a 26-yard return, and the remaining four returns resulted in touchbacks. Punter Sam Koch finished with a gross average of 45.9 yards on eight punts and landed three of those boots inside the 20. All six of kicker Billy Cundiff's kickoffs resulted in touchbacks.

COACHING: A -- The Ravens have now followed up their last 12 losses with 12 wins, which is a testament to coach John Harbaugh's ability to motivate the players. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron went against his usual grain and stuck with the run even when Rice had gained just 17 yards on six carries in the first half. Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano lived up to his word and dialed up more blitzes, but Dalton countered with a 49-yard scoring strike to wide receiver Andre Caldwell in the fourth quarter. Special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg played it safe and went with ball security over big gains.

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