Well-rested Ravens getting ready for Dolphins

OWINGS MILLS - Invigorated by a timely bye week that allowed players to recuperate from sprains, bruises and pulled muscles, the Baltimore Ravens are well-positioned to compete for the AFC North title. Without playing a game Sunday, the Ravens moved into a tie for first place in the division with the Pittsburgh Steelers after their loss to the New Orleans Saints

As the Ravens (5-2) returned to work Monday to launch preparations for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins (4-3) at M&T Bank Stadium, they're not plotting their playoff outlook and tiebreaker scenarios just yet.

"We have to just focus on us," center Matt Birk said. "In the end, we'll see where we're at. If you play good football, you're in control. It's all great, but it doesn't mean anything on Nov. 1. We'll just prepare and practice like we always do and we'll see what happens."

After being granted five days off by coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are suddenly in the unfamiliar position of being well-rested. Before their bye, the Ravens played two consecutive overtime games against teams coming off byes. They fell short against the New England Patriots, losing 23-20, and survived a near upset to the winless Buffalo Bills with a 37-34 win. Under Harbaugh, the Ravens have never lost following a bye week. And the Ravens are 7-1 in games after a bye over the past eight seasons. "One thing about the bye is you get away from football and you come back and focus after giving your body time to rest," running back Ray Rice said. "We know the second half of the season is going to be a tough stretch. We're looking forward to the opportunity. Right now, we're in the hunt."

Approaching the midway point of their schedule, the Ravens have lost two games by a total of eight points. They're ranked 14th in total offense and 10th overall defensively.

"Obviously, we feel like we're in a good position," cornerback Chris Carr said. "But we need to know that it doesn't matter. It's how you finish the season that really matters because teams get better throughout the season. And if you're not one of those teams you're going to get left out. "You don't want to start in a hole, but things can change real quickly. I think we've had a couple scares and lost some games we should have won. So, hopefully, that humbles us and lets us know we have to get better or we're going to be left out of the mix."

Harbaugh characterized practice Monday as very spirited, joking that a few players were weary from trick or treating with their kids on Halloween. "We were fresh and excited to be out there," Carr said. "I told a few of them, ‘I actually miss you guys.'"

Only the Patriots (6-1) have a superior record in the AFC than the Ravens. And the Ravens own road wins over the New York Jets (5-2) and the Steelers (5-2). If the season ended today, the Ravens would hold the tiebreaker edge over the Steelers in the AFC North. Undefeated in three home games this season, the rested Ravens are about to square off with a Miami team that has yet to lose on the road while losing all three of its home games. "Hopefully, we took advantage of it in the right way," Harbaugh said. "Anytime you've had some days off, it's a lot different than it would have been if we had played a game. "Yeah, there's going to be a benefit there. It's something that's important. Hopefully, we can take advantage of it like some teams do after the bye."

The rigors of the NFL season almost always reveal teams' weaknesses, whether it's personnel, strategy, depth, health or character. What started in late July in Westminster when the Ravens arrived for training camp at McDaniel College won't be interrupted as far as any time off for the remainder of the regular season. "We've been through a grind the first half of the season," Harbaugh said. "So, there's going to be a grind the second half of the season. It's tough, you know?

"The teams that can find a way to win basically one week after the next week like certain teams have done, those are the teams that end up in the best position and make the playoffs and make a run at a championship. Every single week, it's really a fight."

Five of the Ravens' final nine games are at home. However, they'll have a rough turnaround after the Dolphins game, playing the Atlanta Falcons on the road four days later in a nationally televised Thursday night game.

"We're in a position where we can control what we control," said tight end Todd Heap, who spent the bye recuperating from neck and shoulder injuries. "Coming off the bye week, we have a clear understanding of what we have to do and that's take care of business. We're in a good position right now, but it doesn't mean anything if we don't come out and play well this week.

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