Ravens optimistic about injured players

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens are relatively optimistic that several injured players, including veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, will be available for Sunday's regular-season finale against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

During a 33-24 victory over the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium, Mason aggravated a dislocated left shoulder that has plagued him since injuring it in early November against the Houston Texans and is also dealing with a related trapezius injury.

"One thing leads to another with the shoulder separation," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "You have some trap issues that come up and there are different treatment patterns, but he's handled it in a very courageous way. "I don't know if I've ever seen a tougher football player in 25 years of coaching. It's a tribute to who he is as a competitor, and I'm sure he'll be out there Sunday doing whatever is necessary to help the Ravens win that football game."

Offensive tackle Willie Anderson was carted off the field with a sprained left ankle against Dallas, but returned in the second half. It's not believed to be serious.

"I think it's similar to the other ones he's had," Harbaugh said. "It's kind of in the same vein. He came back and did the same thing really that 'Mase' did. You can put them in the same category. When he went running back out there, it raised my spirits and our team felt the same way."

Cornerback Samari Rolle sprained his foot against the Cowboys and didn't return, but might be able to play this week. Rookie running back Ray Rice has missed the past few games with a calf contusion.

"We're optimistic that Ray might be able to get back for this game, he's in treatment right now," Harbaugh said. "We're optimistic about Samari as well, but those guys are going to have to take treatment throughout the week to get back."

ROUGH SEASON: For running back Willis McGahee, his 77-yard touchdown jaunt in the fourth quarter only eased some of the frustrations derived from what's on pace to be a career-worst season.

Entering the final game of the regular season, McGahee has rushed for just 647 yards and six touchdowns after gaining 1,207 a year ago. However, McGahee hasn't complained about a drastically reduced workload and has regularly heaped blame onto himself.

"Willis has handled the whole season pretty well," Harbaugh said. "He's been disappointed because things haven't worked out, I'm sure, the way he planned going in as far as number of carries and yards and all those measurable things. To me, the real measurable thing is the character that he's expressed through this whole deal.

"He's continued to work at it. He's been at every practice. He's one of the better students of the game we have. He just kept plugging, and then he gets a chance in the game."

FLACCO ON FIRE: Rookie quarterback Joe Flacco turned in a sharp performance against the Cowboys despite being sacked five times, completing 17 of 25 passes for 149 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions for a 96.9 passer rating.

"The thing that was really impressive was he really fired some balls in there," Harbaugh said. "The throw he made to Todd Heap coming across the middle when there was a throwing window about that big and he just roped the ball in there and Todd was able to make the catch in traffic, that was a huge play in the game.

"The patience on the touchdown to [Mason] because that's a long-developing route and 'Mase' ran it really well, Joe waited and w aited. Those are the kind of things you're happy about the way Joe played."

MODIFIED SCHEDULE: The Ravens altered their practice schedule with the players working out today and Wednesday before having Christmas Day off and resuming practice Friday. The coaching staff consulted with veteran players ages 30 and over before making the change.

"We went back and forth and there was some discussion among the players about the continuity of the week," Harbaugh said. "The players were more than willing to practice on Christmas Day. We just decided as a group that with the extra day of preparation the coaches would have two days to prepare the game plan like we always do.

"We felt that was an easy decision to make, so I think everybody's pretty excited about it. There are concerns among coaches and among players about any kind of change. We're definitely creatures of habit. We just felt like the value of the opportunity to get people with their families overrode that."

FAKING OUT DALLAS: About the only complaint the Ravens had about that well-executed fake field goal that gave them a first down to set up Flacco's 13-yard touchdown pass to Mason was punter Sam Koch's lack of field vision.

The former high school fullback and linebacker gained nine yards, but didn't run toward an open space.

"It was pretty sharp work by Sam Koch," Harbaugh said. "The only thing we were disappointed with was his running back, run to daylight vision could use a little=2 0work, so we're thinking about a couple of drills for Sam on that."

Special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg has an extensive package of fake punts and field goals that he installed beginning at the first minicamp. This fake was one that the Ravens have been practicing for quite a while and is considered a special-teams staple.

"Our mindset going in was that we were going down there to win the game," Harbaugh said. "We were looking for whatever avenue we could to create points. I think the mindset was if we had an opportunity to pick up a first down with a fake, we definitely wanted to do it. They gave us the look."

STRUGGLING: Return specialist Yamon Figurs nearly lost a critical fumble in the fourth quarter on a kickoff and averaged just 17.3 yards per return.

For the season, he's averaging just 21.0 yards per kickoff return and has been replaced as the primary punt return by safety Jim Leonhard.

Has Figurs lost his confidence?

"I don't know about confidence," Harbaugh said. "I haven't asked him about it, but we've got to do a better job in that phase. We're not getting the results that we need and we need to establish better field position.

"So, Yamon is part of that. The guys who are blocking are part of that. The coaches are part of that. From a confidence standpoint, I'm sure if he breaks one that'll boost that confidence."

CREDITING DAD: Harbaugh credited his father, Jack Harbaugh, a former coach at Western Kentucky and Western Michigan, for helping the Ravens make a major improvement over last year's 5-11 record. Jack Harbaugh is in town this week for the holidays and attended Monday's press conference.

"I'd like to thank my dad, Jack Harbaugh, for all the great coaching advice and inspiration over the years that we've been able to apply to this football team," Harbaugh said. "You guys may not know it, but my dad spoke to the team earlier in the year and has been around on and off and has a great relationship with the players and coaches. I think in his way he's had a tremendous impact on whatever success this team has had this year. So, dad, thank you. I appreciate it."

QUICK HITS: The Ravens used several motivational ploys for their game against Dallas, including the suggestion that Cowboys owner Jerry Jones had hand-picked them for the final game at Texas Stadium. "It was an interesting rumor that we heard, and certainly we had some fun with it," Harbaugh said. "It was part of the conversation leading up to the game." ... The Ravens dedicated the game to director of player development O.J. Brigance, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. "He had given us a talk during training camp about resiliency and overcoming adversity that just really cut to the core for our guys, and a lot of those things have played our throughout the course of the season amazingly," Harbaugh said. "The things we've had to face as a football team and the things different players have had to face, I th ink we have applied those lesson to their situation, even coaches. O.J. talked to the team. We had a team prayer with [team chaplain] Rod Hairston after that. The game, it's about O.J., it's about everybody in the room, everybody on the team, but it was really about the principles that he outlined for our football team in the summer." ... If fullback Le'Ron McClain's fumble that was recovered by Mason hadn't been given to Baltimore, then the Ravens had planned to challenge whether McClain was down when he lost the football. "I don't know if the replay would have overturned it," Harbaugh said. "But it's something we would have challenged if we had lost the ball." ... The Ravens deactivated kickoff specialist Steve Hauschka and had Matt Stover handle kickoffs because they activated an extra cornerback: Evan Oglesby.

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