That isn't to say that the Ravens, like any other football team populated by six veteran players with 10 or more years of experience, didn't want and probably need a first-round bye in the playoffs as much as any other team.
"Those older guys, you know who I'm talking about and I'm not going to name names, they really need the rest," said outside linebacker Terrell Suggs following the Ravens' 19-7 victory over the Buffalo Bills that assured Baltimore (13-3) of time off until hosting an AFC divisional playoff Jan. 13 or Jan. 14 at M&T Bank Stadium. "It's a long season, and we have a lot of guys with bumps and bruises that need to heal up and get back on the field for us."
Those older players include 10-time All-Pro offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who missed his second consecutive start with a hyperextended toe. Ogden actually jogged lightly off the field Sunday, and was limping much less noticeably in the locker room afterward.
"One thing is for sure: I'll be back for the playoffs," said Ogden, who was replaced at left tackle by Adam Terry against the Bills.
Ogden's return to the lineup should coincide with right offensive guard Keydrick Vincent (groin) after he sat out Sunday with rookie Chris Chester replacing him for the fourth time this year.
Hence, the importance of the bye.
"It's big because at this time of the year, there's nobody that's healthy," quarterback Steve McNair said. "It's good to rest your body and to go out and get away from the game a little bit and concentrate on what you have going on in your personal life and come back and focus again and reenergize and be ready to play."
Whereas the Ravens' yet-to-be determined opponent in the AFC divisional round against the highest-seeded AFC team that wins in the first round will have played 17 games, the Ravens will have the advantage of rest, recuperation and an extra game to compile a detailed scouting report.
"Two for one, we won one when we actually won two," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "That was our focus. It's something that gives us an advantage more than anything else. Now, someone else has to come here and play us. It works out in our favor."
Added wide receiver Derrick Mason: "It's a chance to sit back and watch the games and scout our opponents and watch them beat themselves up while we rest. It's very important. When you have that extra week to rest, it does wonders for your body. It also gives the coaches an extra week to prepare. You realize you only have two games as opposed to that three-game cycle. The odds are in your favor."
The Ravens enter the playoffs with the top-ranked defense in the league, which allowed only 39 rushing yards to the Bills, McNair as the most accurate passer in team history with a 63.0 completion percentage and running back Jamal Lewis having rushed for 1,132 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Ravens have major designs on returning to the Super Bowl, which they won following the 2000 season. Entering the playoffs as the No. 2 seed in the AFC and with the best record in franchise history after winning nine of their past 10 games, they're brimming with confidence.
"If you had to ask me who's the best team in football, bottom line, we're sitting right now at 13-3 with the No. 1 defense across the board," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "So, if anybody wants to come see us in Baltimore, we've got two weeks and we're waiting."
NOTES: McNair joined exclusive company when he surpassed the 30,000 career passing yardage mark, becoming the third quarterback to hit that milestone along with rushing for 3,500 yards. He joins Hall of Fame members Fran Tarkenton (47,003 passing yards, 3,674 rushing yards) and Steve Young (33,123 passing yards, 4,235 yards. "It feels good to be mentioned with those guys," said McNair, who now has 30,191 passing yards and 3,558 rushing yards. "It's always a team effort.. I think when you look back at my career, it's been a blessing for me to do the things I've done on the field." … The offensive line, despite several lineup changes due to injuries, set a team record by allowing only 17 sacks to break the record of 35 established in 2004. "It's great, it's always pride," center Mike Flynn said. "Steve, he's a vital cog to our team obviously. He's the guy that makes us run, so the last thing we want is that guy on his back." … The Ravens fell just short of becoming the first team in NFL history to have four defensive players register 10 sacks apiece as Pryce (13) and linebacker Adalius Thomas (11) hit the mark followed by linebackers Bart Scott and Suggs posting 9 ½ each. "A half-sack here, a half-sack there, we almost had it," Scott said. "I bet we're the only team that ever got this close, so you can't feel bad about all of us not getting 10 sacks." … Special-teams ace Gary Stills finished four tackles shy of eclipsing former San Diego Chargers standout Hank Bauer's single-season record for special-teams tackles of 46 set in 1980. … Tight end Todd Heap (73 catches, 765 yards, seven touchdowns) finishes as the team's leading receiver ahead of Mason (68 catches, 750 yards, two touchdowns) and Mark Clayton (67 catches, 939 yards and five touchdowns). Rookie receiver Demetrius Williams caught 22 passes for 396 yards and two touchdowns.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.
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