Ravens taking on the champs

OWINGS MILLS -- Garnering the ultimate respect in NFL circles? Climbing even higher in those nebulous power rankings? Being regarded as a legitimate playoff contender by toppling the reigning Super Bowl champion New York Giants?

Earning respect isn't necessarily what the Baltimore Ravens (6-3) have in mind today against the Giants (8-1) at Giants Stadium. Their focus is solely on trying to win their fifth consecutive game and continue to add building blocks toward a solid postseason outlook.

Installed as underdogs, the Ravens have downplayed the additional intangible stakes accompanying this matchup against perhaps the top team in the NFL.

"I would hope so, but, really when it comes down to it, I don't care," center Jason Brown said when asked if a victory would change perceptions about the Ravens. "What I care about is how my teammates respect me and how my teammates feel about me and how we've come together as a team."

The Giants have won four games in a row, feature the best running game in the league spearheaded by super-sized running back Brandon Jacobs, star quarterback Eli Manning and an elite pass rushing tandem in defensive ends Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.

Conversely, the Ravens have the top run defense headlined by middle linebacker Ray Lewis, emerging rookie quarterback Joe Flacco and a bruising three-headed rushing attack with Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le'Ron McClain.

So, is this game bigger than the rest of them or not?

"No," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Everybody can make out of any game what they want to make out of it. It might be interesting for some people or some fans more than other fans, but nonetheless every single one of them counts the same. It's a win or it's a loss depending on how you play.

"You guys can get upset with us with the 'one week at a time' deal and other clichés, but they're there for a reason because they're true. .. It will be a fun game to watch."

Factual? Certainly, but not exactly resonating on the hype meter.

It's not Harbaugh's job to sell the game. It's his job to coach his team to a win.

The Ravens already had their game faces and their focused script of answers about the significance of the Giants game ready days before kickoff.

"Every game that we have is a test," Brown said.

"For us, it's just the next game up," Lewis said. "The bottom line is everybody understands what they are: the Super Bowl champs, bottom line. Outside of that, it's just another football game for us."

"We go out each week and try to get a win," Flacco said. "The New York Giants are just another team. We're not worried about impressing people. It's all about wins. It doesn't matter how you get them. It doesn't matter how pretty they look.

"It's all about the end result and that's a win. It doesn't matter who you're going against. Every week we're playing an NFL team. So, we're going to come ready to play."

Tied for the AFC North lead with the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Ravens weren't expected to be in this position.

Not with a rookie coach who's a head coach for the first time at any level and is now being mentioned in Coach of the Year conversations. Or a rookie quarterback from Delaware who would likely have been watching Troy Smith or Kyle Boller from the sidelines if not for Smith's tonsil infection or Boller's season-ending shoulder injury.

"He was running third," Harbaugh said of Flacco.

Flacco has rebounded from throwing one touchdown pass and seven interceptions during the Ravens' 2-3 start to six touchdown passes and no interceptions over the past four games as Baltimore has averaged 33.5 points over that span.

Yet, this shapes up as the Ravens' most demanding game since a 13-10 loss to the still undefeated Tennessee Titans on Oct. 5.

With four wins in a row over the Houston Texans, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and Miami Dolphins, who have a combined mark of 13-23, with just the 5-4 Dolphins owning a winning record, the Ravens are growing in confidence.

However, they're not approaching this as an endgame, instead looking at it as just another step toward the postseason.

"We're not going to put all of our chips on the table just because it's the Giants," said veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, who is questionable with a dislocated left shoulder. "This is not a make-or-break-the-season game for us."

Added tight end Todd Heap: "I think we have to keep our heads on straight. We've got to treat this game like we're going to play the best team in the NFL."

Meanwhile, the Giants seem to have actually improved since last year's Super Bowl run.

They have already defeated the Philadelphia Eagles and the Pittsburgh Steelers on the road and the Dallas Cowboys at home.

Plus, they have imposing wide receiver Plaxico Burress, an aggressive defensive coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo and two viable backs to complement Jacobs (806 yards, nine touchdowns) in Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw.

"Sixty minutes is all that matters, sixty minutes of football, I don't care who it is," Lewis said. "That's the way you approach every game. Don't get up more for one game and not get up for another. Those are the games you lose, the ones you say that you're not going to get up for.

"So, I don't think it's about national attention or any of that. I just think it's about us going out and playing the type of football we know we can play, against the champs."

The Giants are favored to win by six 1/2 points, but most observers are expecting a taut game that could hinge on a late field goal from kickers Matt Stover and John Carney.

"I don't even pay any attention to that, I don't even look at that," Brown said. "That's paper. This game is going to be played on the field. It's going to have nothing to do with paper."

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