Although the Indianapolis Colts broke the city of Baltimore and its football team's heart when they punched the Ravens' exit from the playoffs en route to winning the Super Bowl championship nearly a year ago, the revenge factor isn't what's driving last year's AFC North champions tonight at M&T Bank Stadium.
For the Ravens (4-8), simply snapping a franchise-record six-game losing streak would more than suffice.
All those conversations about the ghosts of the past, the infamous Mayflower vans and an epic playoff disappointment doesn't override the collective weight of a dismal season that began with lofty Super Bowl aspirations. Not to mention the need to forget last week's emotional, controversial loss to the undefeated New England Patriots and concentrate on containing an explosive offense led by All-Pro quarterback Peyton Manning.
The national stage beckons again to the Ravens, but revenge is apparently an overrated pursuit.
"That revenge thing is blown out of proportion," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Our thing is to try to come in and get a victory. We're on a losing streak right now. We're just trying to get a win any way possible. Everyone is aware of it.
"What we want to do is go out there and try to win a football game, first and foremost, for the guys in the locker room. When we're winning for each other, we're winning for the fans. We have to get ourselves out of this rut that we're in right now. And what better way than to do it on Sunday night against a very good Indianapolis team?"
It was just 11 months ago when the Ravens managed to lose despite holding the Colts to a mere five field goals. Of course, a valiant defensive effort couldn't overcome two crucial interceptions from Steve McNair and a key fumble from tight end Todd Heap.
Don't remind the Ravens, because they'll never forget it despite their insistence on changing the subject whenever last season's postseason debacle is broached.
"That seems like a lifetime ago," Ravens coach Brian Billick said.
When asked to characterize what spurs his team forward one week after arguably their top performance of the season wasn't enough to topple the Patriots, Billick replied: "It's playing an elite team on Sunday night. That's all these guys are focused on: coming out and giving the same kind of effort they gave last Monday night."
For the Colts (10-2), it's a chance to try to boost their standing atop the AFC South as they try vainly to chase the Patriots (12-0) for home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
All the Ravens have to chase is pride and achieving the satisfaction of defeating the reigning NFL champions on the same field where a playoff dream ended a year ago.
While the Ravens aren't dwelling on last year's 15-6 AFC divisional playoff loss to Indianapolis that was keyed by five Adam Vinatieri field goals, they aren't denying that it ended last season on a bitter note that has seemed to linger.
If anything, it was a glaring reminder that Baltimore had some flaws as a team and wasn't quite ready for elite competition.
One year ago, the Ravens went 13-3 for the best mark in the dozen years of their existence. And despite a 4-2 start to this season, many Ravens believe that Colts loss had an impact on their fallen fortunes.
"It seems like we've been in a rut ever since the last time we played them," nose guard Kelly Gregg said. "It's like they started that for us and put us in a hole. It started with them, and hopefully, we can find our way out against the team that put us there."
Despite holding Manning to 170 yards with safety Ed Reed intercepting him twice, the Ravens couldn't dispel the impact of turnovers.
That trend hasn't stopped, extending into this season that has been plagued by an inability to hold onto the football as Baltimore ranks last in turnover margin.
Plus, there have been a multitude of injuries with McNair and defensive end Trevor Pryce on injured reserve and a season-long penalty problem that cropped up again in a 27-24 loss to New England with 13 flags, including costly ones in the final moments which led to complaints that were answered by the league issuing a combined $70,000 in fines for four players.
Despite the Ravens' downward spiral, Colts coach Tony Dungy still anticipates another stiff challenge.
"They're obviously not playing at the 13-3 level, but they're doing a lot of the same things that 13-3 team did," Dungy said. "That's what we have to prepare for."
Although he's a newcomer that wasn't a part of the Ravens' loss to the Colts, running back Willis McGahee, who nearly helped engineer a historic upset over New England with a season-high 138 rushing yards on 30 carries, is aware of what this means.
"I heard some of those stories, how it went down," McGahee said. "If they're rivals with Baltimore, they're rivals with me."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Ravens pursuing a win, not revenge
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