AFC Contender Update: Baltimore Ravens

The Baltimore Ravens are poised to become one of the teams in the playoff mix, and they could clinch a spot this Thursday with a win over the Bengals. takes a look at the current state of the Ravens.

By shutting out the Pittsburgh Steelers with a 27-0 win on Sunday, the Ravens (9-2) now can clinch their first AFC North title since 2003 if they beat the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night.

But becoming the first team to clinch a playoff spot was a scenario few players wanted to address. Inside the Ravens' locker room, a division title is the next step but far from the ultimate goal.

"Our motivation is one thing: That's winning a championship," receiver Derrick Mason said. "If we set everything on winning the division, we set ourselves up for failure. What we have in mind is bigger than winning a division."

Off to the best start in team history, the Ravens can have those aspirations because they are peaking at the right time.

Their defense has become dangerous with a relentless pass rush. Their offense has become physical with a punishing running game.

Against Pittsburgh, the Ravens tied a team record with nine sacks, coming at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger with waves of blitzes. Seven players recorded sacks.

The Ravens' offense provided the other punch to the gut. Running back Jamal Lewis continued his resurgent run, driving his legs and hitting Pittsburgh defenders backward. He gained 61 of his 66 yards in a first half owned by the Ravens.

"People don't like watching it on tape," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "We look like world beaters."

By halftime on Sunday, the Ravens had run out to a 17-0 lead, scoring two touchdowns (a 20-yard pass to Todd Heap and a one-yard run by Lewis) while not permitting the Steelers past midfield.

By the end of the game, the Ravens had delivered their statement.

"Come late November and December, if your offense doesn't have a nasty attitude, you won't go far in this game," Mason said. "You got to want to have the attitude: 'If you're going to take this game from us, you have to physically beat us up.'"

The Ravens' five-game winning streak is their longest since their 2000 Super Bowl season. And after blanking Tampa Bay in the season opener and the Steelers on Sunday, it marks the first time that the Ravens have registered multiple shutouts in a season since -- yet again -- the 2000 Super Bowl season.

This season's Ravens respect that historic defense but they want to carve out their own identity.

"This defense right here is totally different," said linebacker Ray Lewis, who returned after missing two games with a bruised back. "We have so much athleticism that it's scary."

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